Yesterday there was a beautiful memorial service for State Patrol Trooper Sean O’Connell – who was killed in the line of duty while directing traffic around the I-5 bridge collapse detour.
When a peace officer is killed in the line of duty, the services are filled with tradition and ceremony. There was a caravan of 500 police cars from all over the Northwest. Tremendous respect is paid to the fallen.
But is it too much?
Lake Forest Park Officer Morris Parrish is a friend of mine. I don’t know anyone who feels the death of a fallen brother or sister in LE enforcement more deeply than him. But he tells me there is a growing number of cops who are uncomfortable with the size and grandeur of the memorial services.
Here’s what he wrote to me last night:
For a period of time today, I sat and watched some of the elements of the service at Comcast Arena today. By every account, Trooper O’Connell was an outstanding peace officer. But I was not there and I was not there by choice.
Several years ago, after attending Tim Brenton’s funeral, I realized that I had no desire to attend large services and participate in large processionals. I chased guilt over that decision for a long time before realizing why I chose to no longer participate and attend. After all, it’s a tradition that peace officers killed in the line of duty have large memorials and ceremonies. But I wrestled with that until I realized something.
Quite simply, it was not my style and I was never comfortable. Shortly after, I changed my end of life instructions and wrote it into my will that my family was to prevent a procession and not to have a large service, even if my department wanted one. My wife and I had a long conversation about this and she came to agree with me and understand my position. I realized that the service was not going to be about me. It was adolation that I would never have felt comfortable about in life. If there was to be a true reflection of my peace officer and personal lives, then the better thing to have instead of a show was to have the city and my family host a community family fun day in our city. Instead of thousands going to a service and hundreds of cars on the highways and roadways, the sadness could be that of joy and giving back to the community that I love with the fun things kids like such as bouncy houses, live music, face painting and so on. When my wife and I formalized that idea, should I die in the line of duty, I was happy. That would be the better reflection of me that would not impact my citizens in a difficult way.
As I spoke with friends and peers in the peace officer community, I learned that there are more of us who are balking at the idea of a large service for our honor on our death. There are more officers like me who simply want to move on to the Summerlands without all of the pomp and ceremony, regardless of whether it is “tradition” or not.
Instead of attending and participating, I take that time to hug my kids, spend more time with them, volunteer in their classrooms, improve myself on the street as a peace officer and have the peace of knowing that for me and my family, it would be the right decision.
I know many officers who appreciate and love the public support and outpouring at these memorials. Officer Parrish is respectfully offering another perspective.
“Every time this happens, you wrestle with the idea of ‘Do I give the respect and go,'” says Morris. “But I also know that I have to tell my kids ‘Here’s another peer that was killed doing a job.’ I’d much rather be able to spend the time with my kids and tell them ‘Dad’s here, everything’s going to be fine, there’s no problem, let’s go out and have a better day.'”