Carol O’Brien: Putting their lives on the line


Every now and again, there’s a horror story about a “bad” cop, an officer who violated the very laws they swore to uphold, someone who betrayed the trust of fellow officers and the citizens they serve. As a person who wholeheartedly believes in the rule of law, these high-profile media stories are gut-wrenching.

The important thing to remember is these stories are the minority. It’s the overwhelming amount of good “news” (that doesn’t make the front page) that stands the test of time.

Feel-good stories don’t always make the 6 o’clock news, but they represent the vast majority of law enforcement officers. Sometimes we do hear about them, when the story is big enough. For example, we all know what San Bernardino Police Department Detective Jorge Lozano said as he escorted dozens of survivors of the San Bernardino shooting: “Try to relax, everyone. Try to relax. I’ll take a bullet before you do. That’s for damned sure.” When commended for his actions, his humble response was, “It’s nothing short of what any other person in law enforcement would do.”

Detective Lozano is right. There are 14 law enforcement agencies that protect and serve Delaware County. These officers are the first ones we call when someone is breaking into our home; when we are victims of physical or sexual assault; when we have a medical emergency, etc. Whenever we need assistance, they’re there. They always show up, sometimes holding people’s hands as they deliver bad news, sometimes holding back tears themselves.

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day, and the week in which that date falls, Police Week. Every year, tens of thousands of law enforcement officers converge on Washington, D.C., to honor those that have paid the ultimate price.

Yesterday, law enforcement officers and officials from all over Ohio gathered to honor Ohio officers who died in the line of duty over the last year, including Columbus Officer Steven Smith, Danville Officer Thomas Cottrell and Cincinnati Officer Sonny Lee Kim. Ohio University Officer Nathan Van Oort succumbed to injuries sustained nine years earlier when he was struck by lightning while representing the department in the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run. Additionally two K9s, one from Toledo and one from Canton, were remembered for their service.

President Obama said: “Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law.” These are not empty words. On average, one officer is killed somewhere in the United States every 61 hours. Since the first known line-of-duty death in 1791, more than 20,000 U.S. officers have made the ultimate sacrifice.

We ask officers to do more on a daily basis than most of us are willing to do in our lifetimes. I’m pretty sure most of us have never been the first responder on a fatal crash, or spoken with a shooting victim or the family member of a person who was murdered. We haven’t spent hours poring over horrible traumatizing computer images to hold child pornographers accountable, and we haven’t spoken with abused children. We ask these men and women to take in stride the horrible sights they see and deal with on a daily basis.

So no, it is not too much to ask that we recognize them. My office honors individual law enforcement officers several times a year with a “Top Cop Award” for a job well done. We post our thanks on our Facebook page and website. It’s not as prominent as the front page, but often it’s those small, social media pages and community bulletins where you will find the good “news.”

On Sunday, May 22, there is a way for the entire community to thank law enforcement. The Fraternal Order of Police is having its memorial ceremony at 2 p.m. in the Delaware Police Department parking lot. Look for details on the FOP Facebook page. However you choose to do it, please, take the time to thank a law enforcement officer for, yes, just doing his/her job.

Carol O’Brien

Contributing columnist

Carol O’Brien is the Delaware County prosecutor.

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