At 6’1” he towered over me, his hair prematurely gray, eyes black and piercing; as far back as my childhood memories are capable of reaching, he was my personal hero. After all, not many could match his accomplishments in my limited little-girl world. He was not just a black belt in karate; he had his seventh Dan, also called a Shichidan, which was an impressively high degree of skill. He was not just a casual fan or amateur with weapons, he was proficient with guns, knives, swords – you name it, odds were good he could beat the daylights out of you with it. He was not just a relative of mine, he was the relative, the only one I felt I could really count on, and the black sheep of his family – our family – as I would later become as well. And he wasn’t just any man. He was a cop. Because of him, I grew up with a particular respect and unique understanding of law enforcement, and as I outgrew childhood my opinion of his strength and bravery never changed; if anything, it increased. This week, we’re going to take a bit of a departure from the past year’s American Heroes pieces and take the time to pay our respects to another group of hard-working individuals who also risk their lives as a way of life for the sake of others: LEOs.
Law enforcement (LE) in the United States has quite a history, one which can be traced back not just decades but centuries. In the 17th century LE got its start in that era’s watch system, a program built on the premise locals would have a vested interest in reporting instances of danger in their neighborhoods. It didn’t work out quite as hoped, though; watch system volunteers were all too frequently men attempting to avoid military service and if that doesn’t tell you a bit about their lack of caring about what’s going on, it should. There were also some constables here and there based on the constables back in England; they were paid to serve warrants and also did odd jobs. Then, when a night watch was established as an extension of the pre-existing watch system, constables were sometimes – but not always – tasked with overseeing the volunteers. This system stayed in place for quite awhile – until 1830, in fact – before the need for a centralized force was acted upon.
It was the major cities that both needed, and got, a centralized police department first, with Boston as the very first in 1838. Boston led the way and others soon followed: New York City in 1845, Chicago in 1851, New Orleans and Cincinnati in 1853, Philadelphia in 1855, and on. By the latter part of the 19th century, every major city in the country had a municipal force made up of paid, full-time employees. Gone were the days of conscription-dodging “volunteers;” these men were the true predecessors of my late uncle. These men were those who would pave the way for the LEOs of today, who are currently going through a wildly difficult time in the public eye.
Not to say early LEOs didn’t face terrible risks themselves, in fact, in 1791, before the first municipal police forces were put into place, the first “officer down” took place. The officer in question was Sheriff Cornelius Hogeboom, and before he took on the job of what was then known as constable he fought in the Revolutionary War. A military veteran who risked being maimed and crippled what with the lack of medical care, who risked his very life, he simply forged ahead and become one of our nation’s first LEOs. Hogeboom had to know he was continuing to risk his life, and one cannot help but think he must have been one of those rare men who saw so much value in the lives of others he made it his entire life’s calling to serve and protect. On October 22, 1791, then-33-year-old Hogeboom was just doing his job, serving someone with a legal writ of ejectment, when a group of men dressed up as Indians opened fire on him. Hogeboom was killed and although the men responsible for his murder were arrested they were quickly acquitted. The reason behind their acquittal is not known, but one thing is for sure: Cornelius Hogeboom was our nation’s first recorded officer killed in the line of duty. Sadly he was simply the first of many.
In the final decades of the 1800s there were several firsts in the history of LE. The Texas Rangers, which are, in case you did not know, the oldest statewide LE agency in the country, was founded in 1835. In 1858 Boston and Chicago became the first cities to decide it was time to issue uniforms to officers, which was followed by the 1863 issue of pistols to officers within the Boston PD. You might think guns would’ve made sense right from the start, but no, they weren’t standard issue until 1863, and even then they were only being issued in one city. Another little-known fact which took place in 1865 is that President Abraham Lincoln officially approved the creation of the Secret Service on the same day he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. While it was too late for Lincoln, his approval began a LE force that would save the lives of more than one president over the years. Many citizens look at the Secret Service with open respect because they’re impressed by the way agents are willing to take a bullet for the president, and while that’s certainly deserving of respect, the reality is every LEO out there walks around on a daily basis willing to take that same risk – not for the president, but for you. Yes, you. People forget all too easily during their irritation at being pulled over for speeding that the man or woman filling out their ticket is the same man or woman who could one day save their lives – or avenge their assaults or deaths.
Of course, some of those risks taken by officers result in victory, and one famous LE victory took place on October 26, 1881. That was the day of the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral, the day famed lawman Wyatt Earp, town Marshal Virgil Earp, assistant town Marshal Morgan Earp, and temporary deputy marshal Doc Holliday delivered a serious ass-kicking to a gang of outlaws. However, their victory was short-lived. The following December the outlaws shot and maimed Virgil Earp, and in March of 1882 they shot and killed Morgan Earp. Wyatt Earp was at that point a Deputy U.S. Marshal instead of just a temporary deputy as he’d been on the day of the famous gunfight, and when the perpetrators managed to wiggle out of being arrested, he took matters into his own hands. In what would become known as the Earp Vendetta Ride, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday rode across the frontier hunting down Virgil and Morgan’s attackers. This particular story is an incredibly well-known piece of LE history and people tend to fall on one side or the other of the aisle when it comes to the vengeful way in which it ended. But no matter how you feel about revenge or the long-standing clash the gunfight was based on one thing is for sure: LE officers have been targeted and gunned down in cold blood for centuries, and their killers have been quite literally getting away with murder for just as long.
Another milestone took place in 1910. That’s the year just 94 LEOs were killed in the line of duty. Why do we say “just?” Because since 1910 there hasn’t been a single year when less than 100 LEOs have been killed in the line of duty. Yes, it’s been 115 years since our nation saw a single year when the number of officer deaths on duty didn’t reach into triple digits.
The single day in our nation’s history when the largest number of LEOs was killed is a day mourned by the entire country: 9-11. Surprisingly few people realize 72 LEOs were killed on 9-11, not because they were already in the towers when terrorists crashed hijacked airplanes into the buildings but because they rushed in, heading towards imminent danger when almost everyone else was running away. That is why we honor these American Heroes today; that is why my late uncle was the focus of some serious hero-worship when I was a child, and why I continued to respect him throughout his life. LEOs are a special breed and quite deserving of our gratitude.
In a nation constantly peppered by claims of officer assaults and other cases of bad LE behavior it’s all too easy to become jaded and wary of LEOs. And while it would wouldn’t be right – or accurate – to entirely dismiss those claims, because there are absolutely times when a LEO breaks the very laws and standards they’re sworn to uphold, it’s obvious the boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome is alive and well in an overwhelming number of cases. LEOs rightly acting in defense of their own lives, LEOs taking the actions necessary to keep private citizens safe, are being crucified with alarming regularity.
Names don’t even need to be named; you can think of more than a few officers who have been featured in bold headlines this past year. Those officer’s actions have been viciously attacked, their reputations torn to shreds, and when the truth was finally realized – the officers acted appropriately – everyone goes on their way, acting like the damage they did doesn’t matter. As though it doesn’t matter an innocent man’s life is in tatters, it doesn’t matter that he’s forced to leave his job, his home, his life – all because he decided to carry that badge. Because he chose to serve and protect, to offer up his own life’s blood in the defense of private citizens, his life as he knew it is over. He may have lived, but he’ll never be the same.
LEOs today are American Heroes for a variety of reasons. There are the obvious reasons: risking their lives each and every time they put on their uniforms, being willing to put it all on the line during a DV (domestic violence) call, knowing their wives, husbands, and/or children may end up alone because they chose to wear a badge. And then there are the reasons we forget: risking becoming jobless and homeless because the media and a portion of the general public rips them apart for doing their job, being willing to put it all on the line to save the butt of someone who might turn around and sue them for daring to do the right thing, knowing their wives, husbands, and/or children may end up taunted and despised by so-called friends and neighbors because the weak-minded believe and cling to whatever the news spoon-feeds them. Yes, our LEOs are brave, and it isn’t just because they risk their physical lives, it’s because they risk the rest: their emotions, finances, and mental health.
LEOs are human. Some are good, some are bad – but more are solid than are not. When a LEO pulls you over, they’re just doing their job – and they’re doing it without knowing whether or not you’re a crazed lunatic or a cop hater planning to attack them the moment they get within range. When a LEO discharges their weapon in the line of duty, they’re also doing their job. Rushing to judgment or basing opinions on the limited footage of one poorly angled dash cam – let alone basing it on the words of incredibly unreliable witnesses – are excellent ways to ruin the lives and reputations of good cops. And if you think you’ll ever know the entire store, you’re mistaken; odds are you’ll never really know, so don’t behave as though you do.
LEOs are American Heroes who go unsung so often it’s not just sad, it’s wrong. It’s an absolute travesty our LEOs are forced to stop and debate whether or not to defend themselves for fear of being faced with the judge, jury, and executioner of the mainstream media. Just as our service members are being maimed and killed as a result of the ridiculous ROEs, our LEOs are being maimed and killed due to eerily similar fears of media judgement. Those fears are justified: the media will mete out punishment within minutes of the story hitting the newswire, doing whatever it takes to crank out higher ratings and draw in viewers. Stop and think about the way the many risks must weigh on members of LE, and take the time to say thank you. Take the time to give them the benefit of the doubt next time a LE-related headline splashes across your television. They are American Heroes, and they’re walking around outside your homes and offices at this very moment, willing to pay the ultimate price for your sake.
To members of law enforcement out there: thank you. Your sacrifices have not gone unnoticed.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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