Today concludes national Police Week, a time to honor the memories of the men and women who have lost their lives while doing their best to protect our communities.
About 30 Buffalo police officers traveled to Washington to salute the short life and career of Officer Craig E. Lehner, their 34-year-old colleague who died in the Niagara River while on a training exercise with the department’s Underwater Recovery Team on Oct. 13 of last year.
In the history of the department, Lehner was the 51st Buffalo police officer to die on the job or from injuries suffered while on duty. This week has been a good time to reflect on the risks that the men and women in uniform take for the benefit of us all.
Nationwide, 55 officers have already died on duty in 2018, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a website that tracks the deaths of law enforcement personnel across the country. That’s one death every two and a half days.
President Trump spoke Tuesday at the 37th annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service on Capitol Hill, where Lehner was among the fallen officers whose lives were commemorated. The president promised to law enforcement officers that the White House has their back.
“The Trump administration has a policy and it’s very clear: We will protect those who protect us,” Trump said, adding that he favors capital punishment for cop killers. “We believe criminals who kill our police should get the death penalty – bring it forth,” he said to loud applause.
The president also expressed sympathy to the gathered families of fallen officers.
“To the families and survivors with us this morning, I know today is filled with sadness and pain,” Trump said. “But today is also filled with love – the love of an entire nation.”
Lehner’s mother, Kathleen Lehner, was grateful to be present at the Capitol.
“It meant the world for me to be here because I could see my son was not forgotten,” she said.
The past decade has been tough on police officers. Some highly publicized cases of unarmed African-American men dying at the hands of officers led to outrage on social media, and helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement. Raising public consciousness about unjust killings is important, but at the same time the urge to stereotype police officers based on the malfeasance or tragically poor decisions of a few is wrong.
Most officers just go about their duties, day after day, trying to get to know the people in their communities and helping to keep them safe and secure.
All police deaths are tragic, but we should be grateful for the fact that Lehner was only the third Buffalo officer in this century to die from duties connected to the job.
Patricia Parete, age 48, died in February 2013, as the result of gunshot wounds she suffered when she was shot by a man at Georgia and Whitney streets in Buffalo seven years earlier.
Officer James Shields, 36, was killed in October 2002 in a car crash at Delaware and Bryant streets while he was pursuing a robbery suspect.
Last Monday, law enforcement officers from across Western New York convened at Saint Joseph Cathedral to salute the sacrifices made by all of their fallen colleagues.
The words of Capt. Steve Nichols of the Buffalo Police Department are worth repeating.
“This week is about remembering everybody who served,” he said. “Any officer is one call away from a tragedy.”