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Officers face ever growing dangers in the community
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which May 15 falls as National Police Week. In that spirit, various ceremonies are taking place around the country, but particularly in Washington D.C. Locally, the Stanislaus County Peace Officer Memorial Ceremony took place on May 2 at Lakewood Memorial Park. The Peace Officer Memorial Group of Stanislaus County hosted the annual "Foot Pursuit" race in Modesto on May 6, where one-mile, 5K, and 10K races started with a motorcycle officer chasing a "criminal" dressed in black and white stripes. The following day, the California Peace Officer Memorial Ceremony was held in Sacramento.

The Peace Officer Memorial Group of Stanislaus County had its annual Sweet Peace bake sale event, where goodies were available for purchase in honor of fallen peace officers on May 9 at Modesto Police Department. Homemade apple pie and ice cream was sold to the highest bidder in honor of Sgt. Howard "Howie" Stevenson. The California Peace Officers Association hosted another Memorial Run and Family BBQ in Pleasanton this weekend. A 22-year veteran police officer from Edison Police Department in New Jersey participated in the Police Unity Tour this week, riding his bike over 275 miles from New Jersey to Washington DC in honor of Sgt. Stevenson.

These ceremonies and events take place to honor the law enforcement personnel who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. It also serves as a tribute and to show appreciation and support for the survivors of peace officers killed while protecting the people of our society. The survivors who live on suffer for the rest of their lives having lost their loved ones, usually in violent and terrifying situations.

During 2011, 10 California police officers lost their lives, which represented a decrease from previous years. Since 1935, 13 peace officers have died in the line of duty in Stanislaus County and since 1792, approximately 18,500 peace officers have been killed in the line of duty in the United States.

Physical attacks on peace officers happen about 60,000 times annually and current trends suggest that those numbers are increasing. This is owing to a more violent society and a weakened criminal justice system as a result of budget cutbacks. Here in Ceres, seven assaults on police officers were recorded in 2009, and then this number doubled in the following two years. Some recent examples of assaults on our own officers here in Ceres include criminals attempting to hit officers with their vehicles, officers having blood spit on them, being choked, punched, and suffering injuries that even require surgery - all at the hands of criminals on our streets. And while these assaults do not necessarily lead to the officers' deaths, some end up permanently disabled. Many assaults are so vicious and crippling to the victim officers such that they are forced to retire. The human suffering is certainly sad, but the cost to taxpayers when officers are injured and can never return to work is staggering. And as officers' careers end, it takes many months to hire and train their replacements, leaving fewer able-bodied officers available to patrol neighborhoods, investigate and prevent crimes, and to keep our roads safe.

Ask any officer and they will tell you that there are more hardened criminals on the streets (and mentally ill persons) who have previously been in prison for serious offenses. The criminals are more violent, aggressive, vicious and less concerned about having to return to prison, thanks to the early release of prisoners from the state corrections system. This has happened as the result of special interest groups, lawyers and federal judges engaging in what amounts to a gigantic social experiment, where prisoner "rights" and the state budget are more important than taxpaying citizens' safety and security. It is already proving to be a gross failure based on upside down priorities, misinformation and outright disinformation about the entire situation. A majority of these so-called "safe" criminals have violence in their backgrounds, and not only are they a threat to the community, but they pose grave dangers to law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement is adjusting to the situation with improved tactics, training and equipment, but reality dictates the likelihood of more assaults on police officers, line of duty deaths and citizen victimization. The times ahead will not be good.

Yet, the men and women who dedicate their lives in service to others know what they are getting into when they accept a job as a peace officer. They and their loved ones know that each shift may be their last as they work to police the most violent and dangerous people of our society. And there are also the silent killers, like the increased vulnerability to heart attacks and strokes, as well as exposure to harmful chemicals as the result of clandestine drug labs, narcotics use, and hazardous material incidents. Peace officers are physically exposed to people who have dangerous diseases, risk being poked with contaminated needles every time they search someone, and their own bodies suffer from frequent adrenaline surges that result from confronting danger, conflicts, and threats throughout their careers.

It is with much appreciation that National Police Week takes place each year in formal recognition of those who protect and serve the people of our nation.