National Police Week Profile

Honoring Those Officers Who Gave All

Law Enforcement Memorial
Amy Tripp Meyers/Creative Commons

Every May, police officers and families of fallen heroes from all over the world converge on Washington, D.C. to pay honor and respect to those law enforcement officers and special agents who lost their lives in the line of duty. National Police Week reminds us all of the tremendous sacrifice those who choose careers in criminal justice and criminology may be called to make, and gives the nation an opportunity to appreciate all of those who answered the call to stand firm on the thin blue line.

In 2016, National Police Week events begin in Washington, D.C. on May 3 with the annul Blue Mass. Various events, including conferences, competitions and a candlelight vigil will occur throughout the period ending May 16.

History of National Police Week

National Police Week was established in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy assented with Congress and signed a proclamation designating May 15 of each year as Peace Officers Memorial Day. Over the years following, the week in which the Memorial Day falls has come to be known as Police Week, and events dedicated to the memory of those who served and died began to take place during that time. Throughout the country, states began honoring their fallen officers in ceremonies. It would be 20 years before a national memorial service would gain steam.

The first national memorial service for fallen state, local and federal officers was held in 1982 at Senate Park, thanks to the initiative of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Initial turnout was comparatively small, but the event quickly gained support. Two years later, the first National Police Survivors Seminar was held to honor and support the family and loved ones left behind by officers who died in the line of duty.

Soon after, federal legislation was enacted to begin raising money for a monument to fallen officers.

The National Law Enforcement Memorial was dedicated in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, and has become an integral part of the National Police Week events.

Police Week Events

National Police Week has since grown from a small group of 125 into an important event that is attended by up to 40,000 officers and survivors form all around the world. Agencies participate in honor guard competitions, a pipe and drum procession, survivors' seminars, baseball games and the annual candlelight vigil.

Honoring the Profession

Too often, we think of law enforcement as we know it as a centuries-old institution, when in fact the history of modern-day policing is quite young. So, too, is our idea of police officer as an honorable profession.

The institution of law enforcement has progressed tremendously over its short history, as the ideals of courtesy, service and professionalism have been advanced and adopted within departments and officers. While police often bemoan the lack of respect they perceive from the public, events like National Police Week are positive reminders of the support that they enjoy from the communities they protect and support.

Service and Sacrifice

National Police Week and Peace Officers Memorial Day also serve as stark reminders of the nature of police work: sacrifice.

Working as a police officer is not just a job. It's a calling. Officers take an oath to serve and to protect their communities no matter the cost. All officers make sacrifices. They sacrifice holidays, weekends, evenings, and time with their families. They sacrifice their emotions and even, to some extent, their humanity. And some give all, even their lives, in service to others.

A Noble Calling

Every year, National Police Week recognizes that sacrifice and reminds all of us in the profession, as well as those we serve, of the noble calling law enforcement truly is. Not everyone can be a police officer, and certainly not everyone should be. But for those few who can answer the call, they soon find that the intangible rewards of honorable service far outweigh even the ultimate sacrifice.

Further Reading