Speeches

Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger
Police Memorial, Toledo, Ohio
May 18, 2011

Thank you.  To all present—honored members of law enforcement, public officials, family members and guests—I am  glad to be the messenger bringing the best wishes from all members of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Since October 1, 1962 when President John F. Kennedy signed a special law, May 15 has been National Peace Officers Memorial Day, and the week containing May 15 has been National Police Week. This is a time when Americans are given a chance to honor the extraordinary service given year after year by our police forces. It is right to commemorate the dedicated law enforcement officers who serve our communities, States and country. It is especially right to annually honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives. Today we remember all of them.

It is so easy to take the work of our safety forces for granted. Nationally, more than 850,000 men and women guard us at great risk. Do you know that every other day,  1 in 15 officers is assaulted, 1 in 46 officers is injured, and as of May 2, 64 officers have lost their lives this year in the line of duty. Aren’t these chilling statistics? As Chief Mike Navarre said recently “It’s certainly not a job you’d call monotonous—you never know what to expect in an eight-hour shift if you’re a street officer.” But “it’s a dangerous job.”

It is a dangerous job, but our police, members of the executive branch of government and enforcers of the law, wield great power. Because our founding fathers knew that awesome power could be abused, they created limits and wrote certain restrictions on use of that power. The first 10 amendments of the Constitution that we know as the Bill of Rights protect each of us and ensure that government through its peace officers will follow the rules. We judges, as members of a different branch, review those criminal cases to make sure that the legal system stays fair and just.

What does that mean, fair and just? It’s easy to be misled if we get all our information from TV.  Reality TV isn’t—is it?  A good crime story has emotion and if we believed everything we saw on, say, CSI, or  Law and Order, we might think vigilantism makes sense. It might be entertaining and satisfying to see the bad guys get what they deserve, but real life is not that simple or dramatic. Dirty Harry can bend the rules in the movies, but we all should know the constitution controls the behavior of police by protecting individual rights. Even though the rules can be frustrating or troublesome sometimes, good officers follow them.

We often forget to thank our good officers, until circumstances force us to acknowledge how important their gift of service is. When a peace officer is killed—as the verse states—a part of America dies. On such a tragic event, the rest of us sit up and take notice. We recall the risk, we remind ourselves that random violent acts can rip the heart from a family at any time. That bullet, or knife, or car, or fist, might bring down a defender of law and order at any time. In a sense, they’ve made themselves targets, for as law enforcement, they are expected to be there, in the midst of violence.

So what inspires a person to be a police officer, deputy sheriff, detective, undercover cop, member of the highway patrol? Each officer here probably has a different answer.

But whatever the reason, it is your willingness to protect and serve that inspires us, because we know that a country not operating under law is a country in chaos. American law enforcement officers are ambassadors of freedom, liberty and order. You uphold the constitution and protect the rights of all by following the law, by not cutting corners.

Even in performing your routine tasks, you counteract the negative influences seen by our youth and you guarantee our precious personal freedom. We don’t thank you enough and we can’t thank you enough.

This memorial day is for all our officers. All who have died of disease, or injury, or job stress, and those who have just faded away like other good soldiers are included in today’s recognition. So, let us be grateful for their many sacrifices and now celebrate their lives with pride and affection. As we listen to the roll call read out this afternoon, let us pray for the entire blue line that serves and protects our community:

Oh Almighty God, whose great power and eternal wisdom embraces the universe, watch over all of our police and law enforcement officers. Protect them from harm in the performance of their duty to stop crime and violence. We pray that You keep them safe day and night. We recommend them to your loving care because their daily assignments are dangerous. Grant them unending courage, strength and patience in their daily duties and allow them to exercise their power wisely. Dear God, protect these men and women who protect us and unite them with their loved ones each day after duty is ended. Amen.