One muggy summer night in Beaumont, Texas, John Wesley Nero got into an argument with his mother and his grandmother, beat them both up and fled into the darkness of the night. Local police officers confronted the outlaw, but he fled away in his truck, and led the officers on a high speed chase down a dark road. Meanwhile down the road, Officer Bryan Hebert intentionally positioned his vehicle ahead of the chase and attempted to retrieve road spikes out of the trunk to stop Nero’s vehicle. But according to witnesses, when Nero spotted Hebert’s patrol car, he purposely crashed into the vehicle, barreling over Officer Hebert and ending his life. Officer Bryan Hebert, just 36 years old, was a 10-year veteran of the Beaumont, Texas, Police Department. Peace officers dedicate their lives to protecting the rest of us from the anarchy of the lawless. Some of them — like Officer Herbert– never come home. This week, during National Police Week, we honor those law enforcement officers who have given their lives and the families they have left behind.
Every President since John F. Kennedy has issued a proclamation naming May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day. In the days leading up to May 15, thousands of peace officers and their families travel to Washington, D.C. They gather in the nation’s capitol from all over the fruited plain. No matter if they are from New York City or Beaumont, Texas, they are all here for the same reason: to honor the memory of those brave souls who have died in the line of duty.
On May 17, 1792, New York City’s Deputy Sheriff Isaac Smith became the first recorded peace officer to be killed in the line of duty. Since his death, nearly 21,000 courageous Americans have died on the job. Although crime is on the decline in this country, crimes against police officers are on the rise. There has been an alarming 75 percent increase in police officer deaths since 2008. We must do more to protect our men and women in uniform. To address this problem, the House Judiciary Committee recently unanimously passed the National Blue Alert Act of 2011. The bill would establish a nationwide “Blue Alert” system to quickly disseminate information when a law enforcement officer is seriously injured or killed. The system would be similar to the Amber Alert and Silver Alert systems that currently exist for missing children and missing seniors. Although there has been great progress in protecting the safety of these men and women who wear the uniform, the death of every officer serves as a reminder to the whole country that our nation’s law enforcement officers still face dangerous and potentially deadly situations every day.
During my 20 years as a judge in Texas, I had the privilege of working alongside some of America’s finest peace officers. During my time on the bench, some of those peace officers were killed in the line of duty. Peace officers are too often victims of the crime they seek to prevent. When a peace officer puts on the uniform in the morning, they represent everything that is good about our country. They are the last strand of wire in the fence between the law and the lawless. They protect us from those who lurk in the shadows of crime and create havoc in our society. Peace officers willingly fight the forces of anarchy and bring order to law. They do this in some cases with little or no appreciation from the citizens they protect. This yearly tribute provides each of us with an opportunity to honor fallen peace officers like Bryan Herbert and all the others who have given their lives all in the name of keeping the peace.
And that’s just the way it is.