America’s Workforce of Caring Cops and Citizens

By Stephen Owsinski

From tragedy are immeasurable altruistic gestures and good deeds done on behalf of the fallen and hurting loved ones emotionally paralyzed in the wake of utter loss.

Attend or view any police funeral and you will see a sea of badges from all corners of our beloved nation (even some from other countries) standing in rapt attention, paying respects to a man or woman who stood for justice and as guardians of the weak, poor, defenseless, and any manner of innocent who found themselves in the reticle of the reckless.

What the public do not necessarily see is the mainstay ingredients which police personnel and the extensions thereof provide on a continual basis, bolstered by community groups, business entities, and members of the locale.

Tampa, Florida Master Police Officer Jesse Madsen was tragically killed in the line of duty on March 9, 2021, after he destined his patrol car into the oncoming path of a wrong-way driver on Interstate 275, saving lives of other motorists in the drunk driver’s trajectory. One week later, a police and civilian presence convened to pay respects for this public safety professional and his stratospheric height of heroism.

In the aftermath, a variety of fundraising events ensued, to include food truck rallies, challenge coin marketing, memorial t-shirt sales, and an array of Officer Madsen-centric gatherings to honor him for his service and raise funds for his loved ones. Tons of businesses chipped in.

Today, the Madsen family is wholly embraced by Tampa police personnel and their kin, a symbol of blue-family bonds.

The exact same attributes were accorded Pinellas County Deputy Michael Magli after his line of duty death on February 17, 2021. The community came out in droves and offered whatever they had to a grieving police family which symbolized selflessness and sacrifice so inherent in law enforcement circles.

Among many fundraising events, a conglomerate of local business owners convened on their networking conduit known as The Hub pooled resources and catered a massive luncheon whereby food/refreshments were provided gratis at a firefighter-owned/operated eatery called Station House BBQ, with donations received on behalf of Deputy Magli’s loved ones.

A group of Bay area professional photographers volunteered their skills and services in what was dubbed Portraits on Patrol, whereby photogs took pictures of LEO families as a gesture of gratitude and a keepsake for the mantle. A self-explanatory group called BadgeWives harvested the idea, set the ball in motion, handled all logistics, and ultimately delivered a $3,140 check to Magli’s kin.

After yet another active-shooter incident saw law enforcement officers bravely forging forward against an onslaught of bullet-spray from the firepower of a crazed gunman at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, police Officer Eric Talley became one of the latest LE casualties, survived by his wife and seven children.

On his behalf, the Tunnel to Towers organization stepped up and paid off the Talley family’s mortgage. Officer Talley forfeited a high-paying role as an IT professional to enter law enforcement and “protect people.”

In his stead, standing with/for his family were throngs of cops, firefighters, and citizens. The streets were saturated with American and Thin Blue Line flags. From what I understand, fleets of vehicles from local companies caravanned and bordered the streets where his casketed body would traverse to his final resting place.

(Photo courtesy of the Boulder Police Department.)

During most police funerals, it is a mainstay that local tow-truck companies roll out their biggest rigs and hoist the retractable equipment to fly the stars and stripes and/or Thin Blue Line flags.

As Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen tweeted recently, “Inspired by the workforce every day. PAPD officer, former Boulder policeman, attends Eric Talley’s funeral and a PAPD sergeant starts raising money for family. Our country is filled with caring & compassionate law enforcement professionals and incredible humans supporting others!”

(Photo collage courtesy of the Palo Alto Police Department.)

It is that exact context which influences aspiring police officers to do the hard work, endure the rigorous training academy, and maintain a steady regimen of physical/mental health to succeed the mission on behalf of many. Chief Jonsen emphasized the symbiosis: the incredible nature of our species encompasses giving, respect, honor, and the stability of pillars when legs buckle from horrific events…in this case the loss of a public servant.

Boulder, Colorado police Chief Maris Herold offered a bittersweet message, saying, “Police officers rarely get a moment to step away, process their thoughts and feelings, and grieve. We must continue to serve and prevent community harm, even though our hearts are shattered.” A message to the police ranks, an echo for the community, that although we suffered a casualty, the battle against evil wages on and cops/citizens must continue to bolster each other.

In the aftermath of the Boulder supermarket mass killing including Officer Talley among nine citizens, a bevy of selflessness commenced, with the local community and national span aggregating funds and services and homemade trinkets and all manner of giving on behalf of a fallen officer, his loved ones, and cohorts.

As public servants, Boulder police stood up for the nine civilians caught in the barrage of bullets, all of whom led lives and filled various roles in the community. Police executives co-opted the Colorado Office of Emergency Management to be the receivership of all donated funds/materials for all victims’ families of the supermarket shooting. (From what I found, they are overwhelmed with proceeds and the continual outpouring from folks far and wide.)

The Boulder Police Department website contained the following: “More than 500 law enforcement agencies from around the country joined us [on March 30] to remember Officer Eric Talley and celebrate his life.

“We were —and still are— so moved by everyone’s kind words, donations and displays of support. While our hearts may be broken, this incredible support will help all of us begin to heal.

“From the bottom of our hearts, thank you Boulder, thank you to our fellow first responders and thank you to everyone who has helped us honor Eric, his family and the loved ones of every life that was tragically taken on March 22.”

In that statement Chief Herold encompassed the law enforcement institution and its core mission of safeguarding innocents, acknowledging the complexities cops confront, the factor of potential loss of life (self-sacrifice stipulated by oath), and the regrouping efforts among police officers and those they serve…

A funeral service pictorial accompanied Chief Herold’s heartfelt eulogy, illustrating words with imagery of a community stricken with loss…a community shouldered by one another.

And community support for the heroes who carry out the police mission comes in myriad forms. Happily, my squad never longed for a scrumptious home-cooked meal on the holidays when LEOs were out securing the city while others were home jostling for the wishbone or “curing” the honey-baked ham while making room for pie and desserts.

It was not uncommon to see entire families walk into police headquarters with huge platters mounded with food, covered with foil and still warm, complimented with smiles and thank yous.

Most of my police career was spent on midnight shift (by choice) and was often supplemented by what we used to refer to as night crawlers. Respectfully, 24/7/365 deliveries of newspapers (when that was a thing) were hand-tossed from vehicles owned/operated by citizens trying to put food on the table. Usually around 1 a.m. or so, these newspaper delivery folks would slowly “crawl” the residentials, toos papers in driveways, and sometimes notice things out of place.

It was many a drunk driver observed by a newspaper delivery driver who helped us nab the intoxicated motorist after they called it in to the PD, even assuming surveillance responsibility while providing direction-of-travel to police dispatchers until cops arrived on scene, often leading to stopping said vehicle and conducting sobriety evaluations when warranted.

Similarly, quite a number of would-be burglars were apprehended thanks to newspaper deliverers. While out there doing legitimate work, they would observe slow-moving cars (without headlights illuminated) lurking the streets. They’d call it in and stay with the phantom auto until cops were on scene to investigate. Commonly, they’d keep watch as dark-clad individuals exited a car and traipsed passed clearly posted “No Trespassing Signs,” helping themselves to on-site materials where homes/businesses were being constructed.

I’ve caught many a thief thanks to these news delivery elements. These are a few examples of citizens backing the public safety objective and its badged professionals.

Even companies and non-profit organizations reinforce the police mission. Recently, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office (PSO), which was widely exposed on LivePD for its deputies and K9 “Shep,” was granted a big check toward the purchase of another police canine.

(Photo courtesy of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.)

“A big thank you to Farrell Cares for their generous donation for a new K9! Every PSO canine is donated by private citizens, social groups and businesses. Their donations have gone toward expanding the team, which have increased resources to keep the community safe.”

In an interesting Ted Talk, retired Police Chief Dean Crisp said, “People are our partners, not our customers.” (He also said something else that gave my ears rise. Although I never heard the analogy that “police officers live in dog years” —every one year feels like seven— I can relate to Chief Crisp’s assertion.)

Sort of echoing Chief Crisp, retired Baltimore police Lt. Commander Melvin Russell analyzed law enforcement and its “relational” presence in society: being among citizens, each caring and working together to meet needs of their respective community.

Cops for people and people for cops is a win-win proposition—it’s a constitutional covenant.

Let’s close with a classic statement made by iconic police figure Sir Robert Peele, who coined it quiet well so many decades ago: “The police are the public and the public are the police: the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

As Chief Crisp said, “You know what folks, we [the law enforcement institution] do not have all the answers but together we can get all those answers.”

Indeed, great things happen with partnership!

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