Peace Officers Memorial Day is an annual remembrance of law enforcement officers who have died or who have been disabled in the line of duty. This observance is in a similar spirit to similar days dedicated to military members who have died in the line of duty, and a Presidential proclamation in 2020 essentially sums up the motivation behind the day. From the text of that proclamation:
“On Peace Officers Memorial Day and during Police Week, we commend the brave men and women of our law enforcement community for continually summoning the courage to fulfill their solemn oath to protect and serve.”
Peace Officers Memorial Day will be observed on Saturday, May 15, 2021.
Establishing Peace Officers Memorial Day
Established in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, Peace Officers Memorial Day is observed on May 15th, but is actually part of a larger tribute to the men and women of law enforcement known as National Police Week, which is recognized the week of May 15th. This observance was enacted at the same time as Peace Officers Memorial Day, established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1962.
In contemporary times, National Police Week, while considered a collaboration between multiple agencies, does have a group of principal organizers including:
- National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund
- Fraternal Order of Police/Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary
- Concerns of Police Survivors
As part of observing both Peace Officers Memorial Day and National Police Week, there has traditionally been a series of planned events in Washington D.C. which grew out of a single memorial service started in 1982 which gathered in Senate Park.
That event had more than 100 attendees, and over the years that service has grown into a series of events bringing literally thousands of survivors, current and former law enforcement officers, and family members to the D.C. area for the observance.
Observing National Police Week
The modern version of the National Peace Officers Memorial Service is supported by the Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, and there is also a candlelight vigil sponsored by National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
As many as 40,000 attendees come to Washington D.C. each year to participate. Many come from police departments from all over the country, but law enforcement officials from all over the world have also been guests at the event. Typical events and activities during this time include:
- A “Blue Mass”
- Honor Guard Competition
- Emerald Society & Pipe Band March and Service
- Candlelight Vigil
- Wreath Laying Ceremony
- National Police Survivors Conference
Unlike Memorial Day, National Police Week and Peace Officers Memorial Day are not federal holidays; no bank or post office closures happen during this time (as related to the events) and there are no formal national observances the way Americans observe Veterans Day.
But there are many ways to participate, even from afar including donations to police organizations and, depending on where you are geographically located, volunteer efforts. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund solicits volunteer help each year for National Police Week.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial
Those who choose to attend in person have the option to participate in an annual tradition of leaving items at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, in a similar fashion to those who visit the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. Attendees leave objects in remembrance of officers who have died in the line of duty.
If you choose to participate in this way, there are some guidelines: no burning candles, and only “blue paper tape” may be used to attach items to the walls of the memorial. Those who leave items there who want to retrieve them later should leave a note attached to the item(s) indicating when they will return and include contact information. However, attendees should know that technically speaking all material left at the memorial become property of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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