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National Police Week is observed annually around Peace Officers Memorial Day on May 15. Each year, Concerns of Police Survivors participates by bringing families and coworkers of fallen officers to Washington D.C. for support groups, grief counseling, fellowship, a memorial service, a candlelight vigil, and more. But even if you already know about the events of National Police Week, you might not be familiar with its history.

At C.O.P.S. Arizona, we believe that remembering the background of this important week is crucial to keeping the traditions alive for many years to come. Here’s the history of National Police Week and everything it represents to our survivors and our country.

The History of National Police Week

The concept of a holiday dedicated to honoring law enforcement officers began in 1961, when the United States Congress authorized President John F. Kennedy to designate May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day. The president officially signed the bill into law on October 1, 1962.

The first part of the proclamation reads:

“Whereas the police officers of America have worked devotedly and selflessly on behalf of the people of this Nation, regardless of the peril or hazard to themselves; and

Whereas these officers have safeguarded the lives and property of their fellow Americans; and

Whereas by the enforcement of our laws, these same officers have given our country internal freedom from fear of the violence and civil disorder that is presently affecting other nations;

Whereas these men and women by their patriotic service and their dedicated efforts have earned the gratitude of the Republic: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is authorized and requested to issue proclamations designating May 15 of each year as Peace Officers Memorial Day in honor of the Federal, State, and municipal officers who have been killed or disabled in the line of duty.”

In 1994, President Bill Clinton amended the initial National Police Week proclamation to include that the flag of the United States be displayed at half-staff on all government buildings on May 15 each year in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial

The history of National Police Week wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the efforts that went into creating the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Many of the events of National Police Week in Washington D.C. take place at this memorial wall, carved with the names of 21,183 police officers killed in the line of duty and updated every year.

Federal legislation to create the memorial wall was initiated by Donald J. Guilfoil, a detective with the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, in 1972. Legislation authorizing the memorial was enacted in 1984.

Fifteen law enforcement organizations partnered to design the memorial wall, find a site to build the memorial, raise the funds to build it, and pass the necessary legislation. Concerns of Police Survivors was one of the original organizations, and we continue to serve on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund board today.

The memorial was officially dedicated on October 15, 1991 with the names of over 12,000 officers engraved on it. As you can see, today that number has nearly doubled.

National Police Week Today

Each year, 140 – 160 law enforcement officers are killed in the line of duty. We gather on National Police Week to support the surviving families and co-workers who lost an officer they loved. Survivors can attend all programs and services for free, because the price they have paid is already too high.

Due to the impacts of Covid-19, National Police Week official events were rescheduled to October for 2021. If you are a survivor who is grieving a line-of-duty death, National Police Week was designed to honor your loved one and help you on your healing journey. Register for National Police Week 2021 here, and join us this October as we remember the fallen together.

C.O.P.S. Arizona is dedicated to rebuilding shattered lives of survivors and co-workers affected by line of duty deaths. We offer programs and scholarships for survivors in our local Arizona chapter. For more information, visit https://www.copsarizona.org/.