In May, Dr. Karin J. Storm, assistant professor in criminal justice at Brandman University, supported thousands of law enforcement cyclists as they took part in the annual Police Unity Tour. The three-day fund raising ride took place on the east coast and raised almost $2 million dollars for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Here is Dr. Storm's account of this year's event.
In mid-May of this year, I took a second opportunity to volunteer for the Southern California chapter of the Police Unity Tour (PUT). The PUT is a three-day bicycle ride originating in various locations on the east coast, hosted by different PUT chapters. The race culminates at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial (NLEOM) in Washington, D.C. for the start of National Police Week. This commemorative week was established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1962 to pay special recognition to all law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others. PUT is a nonprofit organization that raises awareness of the cause and raises money for the National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial and Museum. PUT’s motto is “WE RIDE FOR THOSE WHO DIED.”
PUT started in 1997 with 18 riders from Florham Park, New Jersey, who rode to the NLEOM in Washington, D.C. This year, there were over 2,000 members nationwide who made the trip and donated $1.91 million to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). PUT is the largest donor to the NLEOMF and has raised over $15 million since 2006.
The Southern California chapter started their ride on May 10 from Somerset, New Jersey, with over 300 riders and 25 support team members. From Somerset the riders rode to Philadelphia, at times in a monsoonal rain, then to Baltimore, finally ending in Washington, DC. As the Media Relations Coordinator for the Southern California chapter, I was tasked with updating our social media sites during the tour. I also provided support for the riders and the entire Executive Board of the Southern California Chapter, including Chapter President Gil Curtis and Chapter Treasurer Steve Eberhard. Some of my many support duties included: driving a support vehicle behind the riders, assisting with meals for tour members, shuttling members of the tour to their required locations, assisting with hotel accommodations, and providing any other assistance as needed.
As National Police Week commenced, the PUT concluded on May 12 at the NLEOM. PUT riders from the different chapters came together to ride their bicycles through the NLEOM. It was a truly amazing and emotional experience to watch fellow officers paying tribute to their fallen comrades.
The NLEOM currently contains the names of 20,267 fallen law enforcement officers from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, federal, corrections, railroad, and military personnel. These heroes have all died in the performance of duty throughout U.S. history, dating back to 1791.
This year the names of 286 fallen officers were added to the NLEOMF wall. Of these names, 100 were killed in the line of duty in 2013 alone. Ten of those officers were from law enforcement agencies throughout California. Three of those ten officers were killed during the devastating tragedy of the Christopher Dorner case, which originated in Irvine, California.
According to a preliminary report by the NLEOMF, line of duty deaths in 2013 were the lowest since 1959. The report also noted that in 2013, firearms-related fatalities reached a 126-year low. Thirty-three officers were shot and killed by gunfire, the lowest number since 1887. Traffic-related fatalities were again the leading cause of officer fatalities in 2013, accounting for 46 deaths, or 41 percent of total fatalities. The other officers died of causes unrelated to traffic or firearms or as a result of job-related illnesses. The other 186 officer names were identified as being killed in the line of duty in prior years.
On the evening of May 13, I attended the 26th annual candlelight vigil at the NLEOM. As in prior years, Attorney General, Eric H. Holder, Jr., was the keynote speaker. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, also provided some touching remarks. Both distinguished speakers referenced the "badge of honor." The badge of honor serves as a reminder for all law enforcement officers to protect each other and our communities. Then, the names of each of the 286 fallen officers was read, serving as their last “roll call.”
Over 20,000 people with candles pointed to the sky to remember the fallen officers. Above us was the “thin blue line" blanketing the city. The thin blue line (law enforcement) separates good from evil. This serves as a reminder of all the men and women who have made ultimate sacrifice for all of us.
On May 14, I had the wonderful opportunity to have a private tour of the U.S. Pentagon. During the tour, I visited the point of impact of Flight 77 on September 11 and the memorial established in honor of the victims. The Pentagon awarded all victims of the plane crash a modified Purple Heart medal. This medal signified the ultimate sacrifice those victims made for our county. These touching memorials were right in line with paying tribute to fallen officers earlier in the week. To add to the already inspiring experience, there was a surprise visit from two four-star generals and a glimpse of the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus.
On May 15, I attended the 33rd Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service, held on the west lawn of the Capitol building. The keynote speaker was Vice President Joseph Biden. The ceremony was attended by over 20,000 law enforcement officers from around the world. Vice President Biden personally greeted all 100 fallen officer’s families during the service. The names of the 100 fallen officers were again read and remembered.
National Police Week is a week to pay tribute to those officers who have lost their lives protecting the lives of others. It also a time to remember that sometimes officers and their families must make the ultimate sacrifice while doing their jobs. Law enforcement officers willingly make this choice every day and we are forever grateful to them. I am honored and humbled that I was able to be a part of the PUT and National Police Week.