Public Safety Professionals: Holding Each Other Up Through Unspeakable Trauma

By Stephen Owsinski

It never ceases to amaze how cops and public safety professionals are not only fashioned to mitigate and survive the most grotesque circumstances on the planet but also to hold each other up to maintain vigilance in service to the community and its citizens.

One of the latest examples of this is a report broadcast recently which involved the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation —comprised of public safety-supporting professionals among other pro-police figures— which paid off yet another mortgage of a fallen cop, so that his grieving spouse and three young children can be free of at least that monetary burden.

Among other pro-police organizations just like it, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation’s mission is “to honor the memory of their brother, Stephen, a New York City firefighter (FDNY) who lost his life on September 11, 2001 after strapping on his gear and running through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers.

“The goal of the [Foundation] is to continue Stephen’s legacy by supporting our nation’s first responders and service members.”

Through the years, Tunnel to Towers has significantly stabilized many families of fallen law enforcement officers. Among several notables whose celebrity-status aligns with Tunnel to Towers is Gary Sinise and Steve Buscemi (a former firefighter with the FDNY).

After the recent line-of-duty death of Pinellas County Deputy Michael Magli, the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association produced/marketed memorial t-shirts and launched a bevy of fundraising events, with all proceeds provided directly to the Magli family.

The Sun Coast PBA page contained several events in honor of Deputy Magli, each raising funds for his wife/children: “Fishing and pina coladas more your speed? Mission BBQ is on deck and Director Chris Jones is staffing our table selling Deputy Magli memorial t-shirts all day! All proceeds benefit the Magli family.”

For fallen Boulder, Colorado police Officer Eric Talley, father of seven children, the Tunnel to Towers folks promptly situated paying off his family’s mortgage, and Boulder PD listed several funds for Officer Talley and the other nine victims’ families via the Boulder Office of Emergency Management (BOEM) while, in tandem, the community came out in droves, paying respects by enveloping Officer Talley’s police cruiser with floral arrangements. Indeed, a community which loves, honors, and respects it police force is most evident when tragedy strikes:

(Photo courtesy of the Boulder Police Department.)

In a guest column written for USA TODAY, Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold wrote the following sentiments about her cops: “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. I am proud of the response of my officers, partner agencies, and my community.”

Chief Herold’s composition readily relates to our topic today, and perfectly underscores how cops, in their own way, galvanize each other while hearts are hurting and scars are forming, all the while maintaining due diligence for public safety throughout the community.

Always the case when a LEO is shot in the line of duty and clings to life, brothers and sisters in blue or whatever uniform color idle, vigil and pray at area hospitals, serving as pillars for distraught family members trying to wrap their heads around stark realities cops confront every minute of each shift.

On April 8, Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Juan Rojas Tovar, 27, was shot while trying to arrest an active shooter who opened fire at a Bryan, Texas business where multiple victims were gunned down, some fatally.

Per a Texas DPS update, “Trooper Tovar remains in serious but stable condition at St. Joseph’s Health. He is currently receiving outstanding care, surrounded by his family and friends while his fellow Troopers hold watch.”

This, right on the heels of a days-prior instance whereby a Texas trooper was ambushed and shot in the head by a suspect he stopped to help on a rural roadside.

Per a Daily Mail report, Texas DPS Trooper Chad Walker, 38, “had not yet come to a stop behind [DeArthur] Pinson Jr’s. vehicle on the shoulder of the roadway when the 37-year-old driver got out and opened fire.”

Trooper Walker’s patrol cruiser was riddled by a grouping of bullets fired by Pinson:

(Photo courtesy of the Texas Department of Public Safety.)

After a pursuant manhunt, Pinson was later found deceased from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Trooper Walker clung to life and succumbed to his injuries five days after the shooting, leaving his four children fatherless and his wife a widow. Trooper Walker’s selflessness in throughout his professional life mirrored the moments of his death; his organs were harvested for donation to patients needing life-saving measures.

His fellow troopers immediately saw to it that his loved ones were embraced, being there for whatever needs they could fill. As of this writing, a GoFundMe page commenced with a $200,000 goal significantly exceeded that threshold.

One of the very static reasons I went into law enforcement years ago was the quasi-family structure inherent in public safety, everyone in uniform striving to ensure one another gets to go home. Camaraderie is often mentioned about police culture, and the legacy of both sworn and civilian support staff propping up the other and doing whatever it takes to support police families traumatized by the job’s worst-case scenarios.

For example, Tammie Bishop, a Tampa Police communications officer and civilian support staff member who also does a lot of the agency’s photography, took it upon herself to have commemorative t-shirts and challenge coins produced and sold, all proceeds relegated to fallen Officer Madsen’s family mentioned above.

(Photo courtesy of Tampa Police dispatcher/photographer Tammie Bishop.)

This is one of many behind-the-scenes efforts by police personnel who opt to facilitate help to a family in mourning, whose husband/dad gave his all to save members of the public.

(More on Tammie soon, when we cover public safety folks just like her who are deservedly heralded during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week held April 11-17, 2021, focusing on “headset heroes” who take 9-1-1 calls and send help.)

From a personal standpoint experienced years ago when I was laid-up on light duty after a major operation among a litany of surgeries combatting cancer, my police colleagues discreetly organized efforts to see that my family was shouldered and wanted for nothing.

Meals were catered daily by cops and their spouses/children.

My property was maintained on a rotational basis by off-duty LEOs who drove up, cut the greens, and went on about their day.

I later learned that mounting bills were paid from a fund amassed via donations from both sworn and civilian police employees…as well as contributions via city workers from Public Works, the Fire Department, the Sanitation Department, and the city mechanics who maintained our police fleet.

A whopping shocker was when one morning, a fence installation crew showed up to erect a white-vinyl fence around my homestead so that my then-young children were safeguarded from the very-nearby lake and potential water-borne tragedies (my kids had not yet engaged in swimming lessons).

From the frontlines to the backend, it is these fine people, their selfless endeavors, their help entities, and police-supporting citizens who not only recognize America’s Finest fallen in the line of duty but also pillar their surviving loved ones in the aftermath, in various ways responding to the challenges posed by abruptness of utter loss immediately segueing to the question Now what?

It remains a grand gesture that Americans of all stripes in support of their nation’s law enforcement heroes also show up and show out the harangue from anti-police activists who spew the devil’s narrative.

In that context, police professionals implement public safety measures with the armor of God, as we see in Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous are bold as a lion.”

As Toby Mac posted while I was writing this: “God’s truth is better than their lies,” easily evidenced when we come together for the good of all.

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