Search for a fallen Law Enforcement Hero.
Almost daily we hear reports of new casualties in the fight for freedom-another assault, another injury, another death. A few of the casualties draw national attention, but most remain faceless and nameless; another statistic to add to the growing total of lives lost for liberty. Sadly, it has gotten to the point where we seem to take these human sacrifices for granted.
The war and subsequent occupation in Iraq has resulted in the loss of more than 500 U.S. soldiers. Each and every one of those brave men and women-and their families-deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. But the casualties I am referring to did not occur in Iraq. They occurred here at home, on American streets, in American businesses, and American homes. These casualties we do not call soldiers. We call them law enforcement officers.
Last year, our nation lost 145 federal, state and local law officers in the line of duty. If history is any indication, another 60,000 officers were assaulted and about 20,000 of those assaults resulted in injury. This marks 54 consecutive years that more than 100 law enforcement officers have been killed in the performance of duty. During the last 10 years alone, more than 1,600 officers have died.
Of the 145 officers killed last year, 14 of them served with State Police agencies. The first of them to make the ultimate sacrifice was Virginia State Trooper Michael Todd Blanton.
During the early morning hours of January 29, 2003, Mike Blanton was conducting one of those so-called "routine" traffic stops near Richmond. The driver of the car, a drug dealer trying to protect his stash, drove off, taking Trooper Blanton with him. The 29-year-old trooper was pinned under the car and dragged several hundred feet to his death.
The president of the local Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter noted that Trooper Blanton had arrested more than 400 drunken drivers. She added, "There are no statistics to track how many people were spared from death or disability because of Trooper Blanton. Be assured, though, that some of us are here today because of the work of law enforcement officers such as Trooper Blanton."
The day after Mike's death, another moving tribute was given on the floor of the Virginia Senate. State Senator Thomas Norment spoke eloquently of Trooper Blanton's drunk driving enforcement efforts, and then he moved to have the Senate adjourn for the day in honor of Mike's service and sacrifice. The tribute became even more meaningful when Senator Norment noted that in 2001, he had been one of the hundreds of drunken drivers arrested by Trooper Mike Blanton.
Some might say that Trooper Blanton and the 13 other State Police officers killed last year were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, actually, we all know that those brave officers were right where they wanted to be, doing exactly what they wanted and needed to be doing when they sacrificed their lives. Of the 14 who died, five of them died in automobile accidents, four were shot to death, two died in motorcycle accidents, two were struck and killed while outside of their vehicles, and one was electrocuted while responding to an accident scene.
California, which has the unwanted distinction of being the deadliest state in the nation for law enforcement, lost four Highway Patrol officers last year. But, even Vermont, which has had only 15 law enforcement fatalities in their entire history prior to 2003-by far the fewest of any state in the nation-had two officers killed, including Sergeant Michael Johnson of the Vermont State Police.
These facts and figures tell us that when it comes to law enforcement sacrifice, there's neither rhyme nor reason. If you are a police officer, that life-threatening moment could come at any time, or any place.
Nevertheless, these sacrifices are not in vain. We are told by the people who keep such statistics that violent crime in our country has declined by almost 50 percent since 1993. Incredibly, this means that despite the best efforts of drug traffickers, gangsters and terrorists, America is safer today than at any time in the last 25 years.
As it turns out, America is also a safer place for our law officers. Since the 1970s-when 224 officers were killed on average each year-police fatalities have decreased by more than 25 percent. In fact, if you are a police officer today, your odds of being killed in the line of duty are about one in 6,000. Thirty years ago, about one out of every 1,500 officers made the ultimate sacrifice. More officers, who are better trained and equipped than ever, are the major reasons for this improved level of police safety.
In May of this year, all of the names of the officers who died in 2003 will be inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. By the end of this decade, their stories will be told in the National Law Enforcement Museum, to be located adjacent to the Memorial. Those are fitting tributes to a deserving group of Americans. But our obligation to those fallen heroes goes much deeper. We must never take human sacrifice for granted and we must never accept death as the cost of freedom, whether it occurs abroad or here at home.
The last of the State Police officers to be killed in the line of duty last year was Paul Pino of the California Highway Patrol. On December 30, he was sitting in his patrol car writing a traffic citation when a car crashed into him. He died soon after. Officer Pino had a pact with one of his fellow officers and close friends, Cheyenne Quesada. If either of them died in the line of duty, the other would read a passage from Shakespeare's "Henry V" at their funeral.
These powerful words bear repeating here, as a tribute not just to all of the state troopers who died in the line of duty in 2003, but to all the law enforcement officers who daily risk their lives to protect the freedoms we all hold so dear: