IOWA CITY — While Johnson County’s law enforcement agencies have been fortunate to avoid an officer’s death in the line of duty for decades, other departments around the country haven’t been so lucky.
Since 1791, 23,719 officers have been killed in the line of duty, including 158 officers in 2018.
Those sacrifices were recognized Wednesday in ceremonies across the country, including at a gathering of representatives from Johnson County’s law enforcement agencies and members of the community.
“It is their legacy for which we stand here today,” said Coralville police Chief Shane Kron. “We inherited this responsibility; are mere caretakers of a history 228 years in the making. Let’s not forget our responsibility to pass the torch and honor those who came before us.”
President John F. Kennedy designated May 15 as Peace Officer Memorial Day when he signed the bill creating the law in October 1962.
Wednesday’s service at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area south of Iowa City marked the first time area law enforcement agencies joined together to recognize Peace Officer Memorial Day. Iowa City police Chief Jody Matherly said departments he worked for previously recognized the day in a variety of ways, but Iowa City had done so in its own way.
“After two years (with the department), I thought we could make this bigger and better,” Matherly said. “I’m very pleased with the result.”
The event was hosted by the Iowa City Police Chaplains and was attended by roughly 75 law enforcement officers, community leaders and citizens. Food was provided by Chick-fil-A and Hurts Donut Co.
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Kron, Iowa City mayor pro tem Pauline Taylor, North Liberty Mayor Terry Donahue and District Judge Deborah Minot were among the event’s speakers.
“Today, we honor those who hear the call of duty and answer the call,” Minot said, who told a story of a Baltimore undercover police officer who died in the line of duty when she was a prosecutor there. “We gather to honor the fallen, but also those who are still standing.”
In his remarks, Donahue noted that the career of police officer has become one of “the most maligned professions” in recent years. He said smartphones and news accounts sometimes show only one side of a law enforcement officer’s interaction and urged attendees to empathize more with the split-second decisions police face.
“They have no idea what may come that day,” Donohue said.
Kron said also noted that “this job is difficult, maybe more than ever before.”
“And God help you if you are ever wrong,” Kron said. “But, tomorrow you will come out and do it again, because you believe in something bigger than yourself. You do change people’s lives.”
Matherly said police officers appreciate events like Wednesday’s that show the support of the community.
“That’s everything for these officers,” he said.
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