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Opinion: What every one of us owes fallen police officers

In the last 20 years, I’ve attended the funerals and wakes of more than 100 law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty. I didn’t know Rivera and Mora personally, but I wanted to honor their sacrifice and grieve alongside my peers. Like Mayor Eric Adams said on Friday, “Once a cop, always a cop. It never goes away.”
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What those officers, like all police officers, have in common is a shared willingness to sacrifice themselves to ensure the safety of their communities. Only those of us who have worn the badge and served can understand that level of devotion to something much greater than ourselves. NYPD commissioner Keechant Sewell summed it up perfectly when she said Rivera died doing “what we asked him to do.”
So how can we as Americans honor that sacrifice? That is the question every single one of us should wrestle with at this pivotal moment. We owe it to these fallen officers.
Here is what I suggest: We can honor these officers and the hundreds of thousands of American law enforcement professionals by showing these dedicated public servants the respect and gratitude they deserve and by reestablishing our commitment to public safety. In order to do that, we must commit to an open and honest discussion about criminal justice in America.
We are experiencing a surge in violent crime. If you don’t believe me, just ask the friends, family members and co-workers of the thousands of Americans killed by gun violence in 2021, 62 of whom were police officers.
Far too many of our elected leaders on both sides of the political aisle have placed politics and pandering above our public safety. All of us, as partners in our criminal justice system, must set clear goals and expectations for each of our law enforcement officers through open and honest dialogue and then work together to meet them.
Adams understands this, as evidenced by his administration’s recently released “blueprint to end gun violence,” a 15-page plan which includes proposals to detect and confiscate illegal guns, create new public safety units and provide mental health resources and other social programs.
He is also reinstating the NYPD’s “anti-crime units,” which were disbanded in 2020 following protests against police brutality. I have a lot of respect for Mayor Adams’ willingness to cut through the bulls–t and do what it takes to keep his city safe.
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Utilized appropriately, these plainclothes officers employ investigative techniques that are efficient and effective means of surgically removing violent criminals and illegal guns from our communities. I know because I spent nearly two decades serving the citizens of the District of Columbia as a member of similar plainclothes units until they were dissolved by our former Chief of Police Cathy Lanier in 2015, in a knee-jerk reaction to pressure from local politicians. Members of the DC City Council, Mayor Muriel Bowser and a few citizen activists have been critical of the units. Yet without proactive policing, officers are now cleaning up the mess resulting from years of mistrust and misrepresentation of police officers’ work, and the politicization of public safety by members of the media, elected leaders, some citizen activist groups and even members of the criminal justice system itself.
To confront the rise in violent crime and protect those who face it from the front lines, we need a new approach — and it will demand change from all of us. Prosecutors and judges, our criminal justice system is built on the idea of accountability. Without it, our communities cannot be safe. It seems many of you have lost sight of who the real victims are, and in doing so, have marginalized law-abiding citizens and the police officers who dedicate their lives to protecting them.
Elected leaders, your job should be to facilitate constructive conversation between law enforcement and the communities they serve. New York Mayor Adams understands that responsibility, but then again, it comes as no surprise since he once wore the badge. We need more elected leaders who understand what it means to serve something other than themselves.
Police executives must also be receptive to these conversations, ready to offer expertise and create real solutions based on their community’s needs. They must also prepare their officers for those tasks with proper training and equipment.
And as for police officers, you are the backbone of our public safety infrastructure. Act like it. Don’t lose sight of the humanity in those you serve no matter how much the job s–ts on you. This is the burden we bear, and it is an honor few will ever know.
Finally, we all must show support for those who serve by taking an active role in assisting them in their efforts. Our success is rooted in community involvement. We owe it to Officers Rivera and Mora. Every single one of us.

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