Friday, May 15, will be observed as National Police Memorial Day. This day was set aside by Congress in 1962 to honor the memory of law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the performance of their duties. Each year, that day is recognized in Oklahoma as well as in Canadian County, and in communities across the nation by a solemn ceremony where we reflect on the dangers and sacrifices of those who dedicate their lives to keeping their fellow citizens safe.
This Friday will be a particularly solemn day at the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office, as we reflect back on the lives of Deputy Sam Farris, who was violently murdered on Main Street in Yukon during a gun fight with two outlaws in 1894; Sergeant Gary Garrison who died on duty of a massive heart attack in 2014; and Lieutenant Shirley Lanning who was killed in a duty related car crash on February 14th of this year.
Unfortunately, this year we will not be conducting that service due to the risks imposed by the coronavirus. Instead, members of our community will be asked to take a moment sometime during the day Friday to reflect upon the high price our law enforcement officers and other first responders, firefighters and emergency medical personnel pay to keep us safe by choosing a career that requires them to literally run toward danger rather than away from it.
That price this year is measured in part by thousands of officers testing positive for COVID-19, 7% in one survey across 45 states. This is because the nature of law enforcement is such that there is only so much that can be done to limit their exposure while carrying out their sworn duties.
Further complicating their task is the fact that many agencies are still experiencing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition, many first responders are also isolated from their families as they seek to reduce the risk of taking the virus home with them.
As we recognize the sacrifice by law enforcement officers and their partner first-responders, firefighters and emergency medical personnel we should also add a profound word of thanks for the medical care providers, doctors, nurses and the other health care professionals who are serving on the front lines of this crisis. These are the men and women who knowingly assume both the risks of becoming infected themselves and the emotional strain of being away from their families for extended periods of time. That they stay at their posts in order to provide COVID-19 victims the best possible chance of surviving and going home to their loved ones is truly a testament of the “no greater love” documented in the Bible.
Finally, I would like to express my personal gratitude for the assistance and cooperation we have received from Canadian County citizens, who have done so much to help make our jobs less difficult during this time. Their support means more than any words could ever possibly convey. When a community comes together to care for one another, it conveys a spirit of shared concern for each other, and that mutual support is what helps navigate through such turbulent times.
Chris West is Canadian County Sheriff