National Police Week (NPW) is held each year in Washington, D.C., during the week that surrounds May 15. The main events bring out anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 people from all across the nation, with the majority being active or retired law enforcement officers. Among this large group are the surviving family members and co-workers of the fallen officers who died in the line of duty the previous year.
For the past decade, Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) has quoted the average number of line-of-duty deaths as 140 to 160 officers each year. As of 2020, the average annual number of officers who made the ultimate sacrifice has become much higher than 160. In 2021, NPW hosted families from two combined years, since COVID forced in-person events to be canceled in 2020. A total of 491 officers were honored, and 4,730 survivors were in attendance.
We hoped to never have to honor that many officers in one year again, but an unfortunate reality came this past May. C.O.P.S. once again partnered with the National Fraternal Order of Police and its Auxiliary and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund to host the events of NPW 2022. A total of 563 officers were honored, and 6,307 survivors were in attendance.
Due to the increased attendance in the past couple of years, the C.O.P.S. National Police Survivors’ Conference held during NPW has been split into two conferences: one for surviving family members and another for surviving co-workers.
Sergeant Chris McDavid of the Sullivan County (Tennessee) Sheriff’s Office has attended NPW both as a supporter and now as a surviving co-worker of Sergeant Joshua Stewart, who died from COVID on September 27, 2021. McDavid said, “When I received my first opportunity to attend Police Week in 2016, I did not know what to expect. I met the Middle and East Tennessee C.O.P.S. Chapter, who helped me understand what the true meaning of the week was. After attending, I came back with a new knowledge and purpose for our fallen officers, their families and the agencies.”
Like Sergeant McDavid, a lot of law enforcement officers who lose a co-worker in the line of duty don’t consider themselves survivors. At the C.O.P.S. Co-Workers Conference, that notion is quickly silenced and a new perspective is born. A deputy from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office stated, “The term ‘survivor’ took on a different meaning for me in the few days I was in D.C.”
People attend NPW to honor their officer, and it’s by far one of the most honorable experiences you will ever have. But along with the bittersweet moments comes the incredible support the survivors receive, both from C.O.P.S. and from each other.
The surviving family members of Denver (Colorado) Deputy Sheriff Daniel “Duke” Trujillo, who died May 26, 2021, were in attendance. His mother, Renee, said, “The candlelight vigil was our favorite part. The week meant a lot to our family and allowed for closure for several family members.”
Each scheduled event of NPW holds its own special and important aspect: The Candlelight Vigil calls out the newly engraved names of each officer, which can be emotional for the family members to hear; the FOP’s Memorial Service offers the family the physical honor of placing the flower in the memorial wreath as their officer’s name is called; and the C.O.P.S. Survivors’ Conference brings guidance from licensed mental health and grief counselors and the peer support that comes with meeting other survivors.
Danet Arango-Henry, surviving sibling of Everman (Texas) Police Sergeant Alex Arango, who died October 22, 2020, posted to the C.O.P.S. Facebook page, “I attended for the first time last year to honor my brother. I came back this year to volunteer and I found it to be therapeutic to be around other survivors again.”
For some, like Sergeant McDavid, being a part of the C.O.P.S. mission becomes a full-time passion by serving with one of the 55 chapters across America. He said, “The impact was so great for me that I became a board member for my local chapter. To me, there is no greater honor than to represent my fellow brothers and sisters, not only in the state of Tennessee, but across our nation.”
If you were unable to attend NPW, there is still a way to honor those 563 heroes and support their survivors. In 2021, C.O.P.S. rolled out #COPSWhyInJuly, a virtual fundraiser and competition. This year, we’re asking supporters from across the country to complete 563 minutes of physical activity in honor of all our fallen officers. To register as a team or individual, visit concernsofpolicesurvivors.akaraisin.com/ui/COPSWhyInJuly2022.