More police officers were killed in the line of duty in 2019 than all U.S. military deaths in Iraq over the past the seven years combined, according to a recent article in Law Enforcement Today.
The December article counted 115 police officers who lost their lives last year, versus a total of 81 military member deaths in Iraq between 2012 and 2019. After the article was published, the police officer death toll continued to rise until the end of the year. The Officer Down Memorial Page now counts the number of officers lost in 2019 at 134.
Those figures are startling. The nature of military service leads us to assume that it is a higher-risk service, particularly given that the U.S. involvement in Iraq has been going on for nearly 17 years. The U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003. But to hear that we lost more law enforcement officers while on duty than all the U.S. soldiers in Iraq over the past seven years? That is disconcerting news that heightens concerns about violence in our communities.
Tennessee ranks fourth in the number of law enforcement officers who lost their lives while on duty, behind New York, California and Texas. Our eight law enforcement officers lost in 2019 put us near the very top of the list. In fact, we had more law enforcement deaths in Tennessee than in Florida, Michigan and New Jersey combined.
Two officers lost in Middle Tennessee make these statistics all too real. Hendersonville’s Master Patrol Officer Spencer Bristol was one of the last law enforcement officers killed in 2019. And Nashville will never forget the loss of Officer John Anderson, killed in the line of duty in July 2019.
The Metro Nashville Police Department Code of Ethics that each police officer swears to uphold makes a strong statement regarding the service that officers expect to provide our community: “I will maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn or ridicule; develop self-restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others.”
We should be capable of promising the same. Joe Casey, who served Metro Nashville for 38 years, with 16 of those as chief of police, discussed the challenges facing police officers and their families in a 2015 short student documentary titled “Chief Joe Casey: A Life of Service.” “My family,” Casey said, “had to worry every time I left home if I was going to come back, because there’s no guarantee.”
As our city manages the growing pains that come along with our city’s growth, we cannot lose the small-town mentality of caring for our neighborhoods, caring for our police and firefighters and caring for each other.
As we begin this new year, let us all share in the resolution to better protect the lives and safety of our law enforcement officers. We should be constantly mindful of the welfare of those who have sworn to protect us.
Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, the Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County.