On the night of October 16, 2016, Fairbanks (Alaska) Police Department Sgt. Allen Brandt responded to a report of multiple gunshots. Immediately after arriving on the scene, he was ambushed; shot multiple times in the legs and chest. Though he survived his wounds, he died during follow-up surgery.
On May 13, Brandt, a member of the Public Safety Employees Association (PSEA), Local 803, along with hundreds of other officers killed in the line of duty, was honored during a candlelight vigil as part of National Law Enforcement Week.
His name and the names of fallen heroes from local, state and federal agencies were inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. In 2016, 143 officers were killed; the names of more than 20,000 officers are engraved on the wall. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed May 15 National Peace Officers Memorial Day. The purpose was to “express our gratitude for the dedicated service and courageous deeds of law enforcement officers and for the contributions they have made to the security and well-being of all our people.”
Police Week, as it is also known, is a chance not only for officers from across the country to remember their fallen colleagues, but for communities to express thanks for those who protect them. Events during the week include memorial services as well as seminars for families and loved ones coping with loss.
A PRICE BEYOND GRIEF
Often, the price paid by the families of fallen officers is overlooked. In addition to struggling with grief and adjusting to life without a loved one, many face the added burden of losing health insurance when an officer has died.
In Alaska, however, this last burden has recently become a little lighter. With the help of AFSCME members, including PSEA President Jess Carson, Alaska’s state legislature passed a bill that guarantees continued health benefits for the families of fallen officers. Carson, a sergeant with the Alaska State Troopers, said the problem of suspended benefits came to light in 2014 when two troopers were killed in the line of duty.
Sgt. Patrick Johnson and Trooper Gabriel Rich, who had appeared on National Geographic Channel’s reality show, “Alaska State Troopers,” were killed on May 1. Shortly afterwards, Carson received a call from Johnson’s widow. She said that she received a letter explaining that her families’ health insurance would soon end.
“That’s when we got involved,” said Carson. “Families had been suffering without letting us know.”
And so began a three-year battle to ensure that families of Alaskans killed serving their communities continued to receive the health benefits they deserve.
Carson and fellow troopers from Alaska will join thousands of others in Washington this week. In addition to honoring their colleagues, Carson views the week as a time of healing.
“As a law enforcement officer, you feel like a different part of society. A lot of people don’t like you,” he said, adding that the gathering allows officers to “feel less alone.”
Ironically, because Carson and his fellow officers work so much overtime, they rarely have the chance to grieve alongside one another when at home. National Law Enforcement Week gives them that chance.
The memorial where Sgt. Brandt’s name will be etched has special meaning for Carson and others.
“We want to believe that what we’re doing makes a difference and that we’ll be remembered,” Carson said.
For Det. Derek Puorro of Connecticut’s Middletown Police Department, Law Enforcement Week spotlights the incredibly difficult work police officers do.
“We’re in the fight of our lives,” said Puorro, vice president of Local 1361/AFSCME Council 4. “We’re doing what we have to do to come home to our families.”
At a time when law enforcement officers are under tremendous pressure, Puorro echoes the importance of “having a week to bring together law enforcement officers and their families”
For never quitting on their communities, we owe the men and women of law enforcement our thanks.