Many social scientists call the work of emergency responders and others in the medical field “death work.” This applies to the law enforcement community for many reasons. We certainly deal with a great deal of violence and death, but we also face it head on.
As the recent Law Enforcement Memorial Day reminds us, some within our calling will pay the ultimate price. Indeed, I never really stop thinking about my three coworkers that died over the six years I was a police officer. They and other heroes who I never had the honor to know have somehow become a part of me.
Reflecting upon such loss, I believe the term “death work” proves quite the misnomer. For as the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial reminds us, “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.” Their legacy continues to challenge, inspire and shape our service to the community whether still active in law enforcement or retired from it. When I meet current law enforcement officers, I think of the important “life work” they do without often realizing it – whether finding a lost autistic child, helping a domestic violence victim, comforting those experiencing loss or without hope, or seeking justice in a world that is too often unfair.
I remember a police officer in the town I grew up in who planted positive seeds in my life (a somewhat delinquent one at the time) just through conversation and simple kindness. I recall the valor of those who so rightly earned awards for heroic deeds. I recall as well the kindness of other officers done without fanfare as they provided diapers for young families without or shared their own lunch with the homeless. I have seen those arrested for acts that were quite inhumane, and yet they were treated with human dignity by the officers they claimed as enemies.
These kinds of experiences taught me that the vocation that is shared by law enforcement officers is a sacred one, a holy summons to nurture life and shed light in what can seem a dark world. The long shifts, the thankless tasks, the time away from family and friends are very real costs, but it isn’t without benefit or meaning. It is a death to oneself and one’s desires so that others might live. It is life giving work embodying the truth of Jesus’ words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Law enforcement is often a difficult life, but it is a life worth living and sharing with others.
 Two died in the line of duty and are listed at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. A third died from an unknown congenital heart condition at home following a foot pursuit earlier that evening. A fourth died years later from medical complications after being shot while apprehending robbery suspects.
Originally written for the newsletter of the Hanover County (VA) Sheriff’s Office.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation. This post was first published in The Messenger, the newsletter of Messiah Lutheran Church (June 2014).
© 2014 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.