Letter from Rep. Danou: Honor fallen Law Enforcement Officers by protecting their familiesLast week, communities across Wisconsin and the country honored fallen law enforcement officers for National Police Week.
By: Rep. Chris Danou, Pierce County Herald
Last week, communities across Wisconsin and the country honored fallen law enforcement officers for National Police Week. It is the one time of the year we stop and pause to honor those police officers who protect and serve our communities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Officers work on holidays and weekends, in every sort of weather. Family events will be cancelled or the officer will miss them due to a constantly changing work schedule that requires officers to be available 24 hours a day. Everyday, these officers selflessly serve and protect everyone in our community.
Police officers tend to die at a younger age than the population at large due to the illnesses related to the stressful nature of the job. It is a harsh reality that the life of a law enforcement officer can end while performing their job in the line of duty. Tragically, on March 20, 2011, Fond du Lac Police Officer Craig Birkholz was shot to death while responding to a domestic incident where other officers were under fire. This past week, Officer Birkholz was honored at the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial at the Wisconsin State Capitol.
We honor fallen officers through memorials and services where we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. A memorial for a fallen police officer is an impressive and solemn affair in which our state and its communities recognize the sacrifice that has been made by the fallen officer. Our efforts to honor fallen officers do not stop there, but rather are just the beginning.
A fallen law enforcement officer leaves behind more than an act of bravery and sacrifice. They are heroes who leave behind colleagues, friends, neighbors and family. Many questions face family members as they grieve and determine how to move forward after their loved one is honored by the community. So in the end, how do we truly honor those police officers who made the ultimate sacrifice?
Ultimately, we honor those officers who have fallen by stepping up and doing what those fallen officers can no longer do. We protect and provide for their families, the spouses and children of our fallen officers out of gratitude for their service and sacrifice. Their spouse will no longer have a partner to journey through life, experiencing all the joys and sorrows a life together brings. Their children will not be able to share their lives with a parent, to have their mother or father watch them cross the stage at graduation or to share in the many milestones and thrills that growing up bring.
We cannot give our fallen officers and their families those moments that have been taken away. But what we owe those officers, each day they do their job and selflessly protect people from harm, is the assurance that their families have some security and a safety net in their time of need.
Here in Wisconsin, it is clear that we must do more to honor fallen law enforcement officers. Recognizing this fact, on February 11, 2011 members from both sides of the aisle in the Wisconsin State Legislature introduced Senate Bill 18 that would have provided a safety net to the families of fallen law enforcement officers. SB 18 would have required local municipalities to provide health insurance coverage for family members of a law enforcement officer who dies, or has died in the line of duty. This is a benefit already granted to Wisconsin’s firefighters and is a very appropriate way to remember and honor those who sacrifice their life to protect their community.
I was proud to co-author SB 18 with a bi-partisan group of legislators from around Wisconsin. While SB 18 passed unanimously on May 17, 2011 in the State Senate, the bill was stonewalled in the State Assembly. On November 1, 2011, SB 18 was scheduled in the Assembly to honor Officer Craig Birkholz and passage was nothing short of certain. I was extremely disappointed when I heard the bill was removed from the calendar because it was considered to be an unfunded mandate by Republican leadership.
I spoke with a number of my Republican colleagues and asked them to help schedule the bill for a vote, not only because I knew the bill had the votes to pass, but because I knew it was the right thing to do. I stressed the importance of this bill and I told them that if they objected to the bill, they could voice their objections and vote against it. However, procedural tactics were used and the bill never even came before the Assembly for a vote. As a result, the legislature adjourned this spring without passing SB 18 into law.
It is easy for elected officials to attend memorial services and funerals and say they support our fallen officers. But if we truly care about our fallen officers, we need to step up and do the right thing by protecting the families those officers can no longer protect because they were protecting us. I believe in its importance, and I intend to author this legislation every session until it becomes law. I hope my colleagues from both sides of the aisle will join me in passing this legislation next session.