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Remembering fallen law enforcement officers

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Col. Troy Roberts, 11th Security Forces Group commander and Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Wright, 811th Security Forces Squadron manager, salute the wreath during the 2018 National Police Week Wreath Laying Ceremony on Joint Base Andrews, Md., May 14, 2018. The ceremony commemorated defenders that lost their lives in the line of duty in 2017.

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --

This past Monday, members of the 11 Security Forces Group held a wreath laying ceremony to honor the 128 law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty during 2017. While the sacrifices of these heroes often mirror those of military members, public perception rarely affords them equal recognition. 

For example, service members in uniform are often thanked for their service by grateful members of the public, and how often do you see the same gratitude being extended to a civilian police officer? Furthermore, when a service member dies in the line of duty, it is national news.

On the contrary, do you recall each of the 128 peace officer deaths that occurred in 2017 making the national headlines? What do you think would be the public’s reaction to 128 service members being killed in a dangerous, yearlong peace enforcement mission in a faraway land? I would venture to say that the hypothetical public outcry to those military deaths would dwarf the actual reaction that the law enforcement community’s losses provoked.

This lack of public gratitude is ironic, as civilian police are equally critical to safeguarding freedom and democracy as the military. Law enforcement is vital to ensuring the rule of law, which serves as a cornerstone in the foundation of democracy. What is rule of law? Simply put, it exists when laws are codified, citizens know and generally follow the laws, and there are organizations that impartially enforce those laws.

How does rule of law perpetuate democracy? Rule of law inhibits the willingness of our leaders and fellow citizens to violate the laws of our democracy. Adhering to rules is critical to the success of our democracy, and consequently ensuring our freedoms, because our democracy is, at its core, a set of rules. 

The Constitution is a set of laws that dictate how our government functions, to include how we limit the authority any one person can accumulate, thereby ensuring that this remains a government by the people and for the people.  Similarly, the Bill of Rights is a set of laws that codify and protect our basic freedoms. 

Without rule of law, these two paradigm breaking documents would be just pieces of paper. In a society with rule of law, the citizens know it is wrong to steal from their neighbors and such a transgression will be punished, and likewise, the leaders know it is wrong to impede the public’s freedoms and such a transgression will be punished. That is the role of law enforcement, to protect and uphold the laws and codes that knit our society together.

We owe these 128 fallen law enforcement officers a debt that can never be repaid.  Their selflessness and courage have prevented the very foundation of our democracy from collapsing.  I encourage you to dwell on the nature of their sacrifice. 

Please realize that these heroes left behind families, friends, and communities that depended upon them. Understand that despite the inherent risk someone willingly stepped into that void, donned the mantel of service, and protected the rule of law and democracy. Let those be the things you think of when you see a law enforcement officer.