Why We Honor Our Fallen

by Jack Gaffigan, Badge of Honor Memorial Foundation

On more than one occasion I have been asked, why police funerals are so large and are so disruptive to traffic. The immediate and simple answer is “we are family.” In addition, the concept of a funeral, be it for a police officer or for anyone, is a final opportunity for the deceased individual’s family, friends, and colleagues to mourn the loss, extend condolences and to provide support to the family of the deceased.

In the case of a police officer killed in the line of duty, it is a reminder that the deceased officer gave his life to protect all of us. This is a life needlessly taken, yet willingly sacrificed, and like those of our fallen military, the funeral is a celebration of that life and a reminder to everyone of the preciousness of life and how quickly it can be extinguished.

Police officers throughout the United States are losing their lives in the line of duty at an alarming rate. Statistically throughout the US, a police officer is killed in the line of duty every other day every year. This loss of life occurs in our largest cities and smallest towns. For many smaller police agencies, it may be the first line of duty death ever experienced. When such tragedy occurs, individual officers, the community, and the police agency are typically overwhelmed with the loss of their colleague and community servant, the subsequent investigation, and then providing a proper tribute to honor the fallen officer.

Out of concern for this came two separate ideas that work very well separately and jointly. First, the Badge of Honor Memorial Foundation has created a “Casualty Assistance Guide” which provides police agencies both large and small with a step-by-step guide to manage the death of an officer. The Guide offers multiple scenarios dealing with deaths from those incurred during line of duty incidents, to deaths of active officers from non-line of duty deaths, officer suicides, or deaths of retired officers.

Each scenario has varying dynamics that need to be addressed but the important thing is an officer, no matter the manner of death is entitled to be mourned by his family, friends, and colleagues. In the case of suicide, we urge police departments and others to look at the totality of the officer’s work rather than whatever issue drove him to end his own life. The funeral for a retired officer will be entirely different from an officer who died of natural causes while working – which will be entirely different from that of an officer who is killed in the line of duty.

The Badge of Honor Memorial Foundation is also available to assist any police agency in securing all benefits due a fallen officer’s family. The benefits can be at the federal, state or local level. BOHMF maintains a close working relationship with the US Department of Justice. It is through their Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Program that the families of our fallen are assisted financially.

Second, is the Funeral Response Team. Currently this type of operation is available in only four states, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

The basic idea of these funeral response teams is to offer their services to any police agency within their state requesting help with the logistics involved with funeral preparations for any officer who dies in the line of duty. They also provide assistance with the funeral of any officer active or retired.

Each state has its own operation and is governed by its own set of rules. In some states, the funeral response team is set up under the Chiefs of Police Association, and in others it is an entirely separate organization. As part of their response, Wisconsin, offers counseling services for any agency that suffers a line of duty death. In Missouri, the team is placing response trailers across the state stocked with supplies for assisting with the logistics of traffic control, casket flags, mourning bands, honor guard supplies and a comprehensive list of other supplies needed for any service.

First and foremost, the goal of all of the funeral teams is to meet the needs of the affected police agency as well as the needs and wishes of the family. Each team also works to organize different groups such as pipe and drum, motor officers, and chaplains who can respond throughout the state as needed.

In all of our states, there are small departments that do not have the resources to afford their fallen officers the large-scale official funeral that they deserve. It is my fervent hope that the concept of the Funeral Assistance Team spreads throughout the United States.

For additional information concerning the Funeral Assistance Team please refer to the following websites:

Missouri – mopolicefuneral.org
Wisconsin – wichiefs.org/ledr.asp

In conclusion, the Badge of Honor Memorial Foundation and the various Funeral Assistance Teams are the finest example of cops helping cops. Neither the color of the uniform, nor the shape of the badge makes a difference. What matters is our oath to “serve and protect.” When one of our own falls in the line of duty, we owe it to the officer, his family, and the community to provide the fallen officer with a funeral honoring the officer’s life and sacrifice. The answer to the question of why we have large official funerals for fallen officers is simple – We are family.

“It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.” – Vivian Eney Cross