On Sunday, I woke up with a sense of melancholy and looked out the window to see that the weather fit my mood. It was overcast, cold, and dreary and soon it began to rain and sleet. As I slowly got dressed, putting on my bullet-resistant vest seemed to take longer than most days as I continued to put on my uniform. Not inclined to ever wearing a tie, today was different and I looked to make sure that my tie bar was shining and aligned properly. Today was different because today was the day that I would be joining literally hundreds of other law enforcement officers from around the country to pay our respects to Trooper Trevor Casper, who died on Tuesday, March 24th, after a shootout with a suspected bank robber and murderer.
I rode up to Kiel, the hometown of the slain 21-year-old, with a colleague of 25 years. I welcomed the company of John as today was not the sort of day that any one of us involved in this profession should be alone. We needed to be able to lean on each other, to offer encouragement, and to embrace the solemnity of the moment with someone who knows implicitly what is meant by the expression, "But for the grace of God go I . . . ."
As we approached the tiny town of Kiel, it was clear that an entire community was both proud and grieving the loss of a beloved native son. Warm messages of encouragement and prayer were on business signs everywhere and a small city of about 3,700 found itself to be probably the safest town in America for a few hours as law enforcement officers and squad cars lined the streets leading up to Kiel's high school--home of the Raiders and the place where Trooper Casper had graduated as a student-athlete just a few short years ago.
When John and I arrived for the visitation, we took our place in a queue of law enforcement officers waiting to pay our respects. In spite of the hundreds of people waiting, it seemed eerily hushed and subdued as we all struggled to gather our thoughts. My mind drifted. I thought of the pain I heard in Superintendent Fitzgerald's voice when I called him expressing our condolences for the loss of Trooper Casper. I thought of all of the young women and men that I have earnestly tried to recruit as officers for MPD, and prayed silently that all had made their peace with the stark realities of what can happen on this job. And I found my attention drawn to the family and friends of Trooper Casper and could not begin to fathom the depths of their despair over the loss of their "Trevor."
Finally, it was our time to pay our final tribute to Trooper Casper. As I hit my knees and prayed for Trevor, his family and friends, and the cherished State Patrol that he was proud to serve, I remembered all of those law enforcement officers who had gone before him in making the ultimate act of selfless service. "Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen."
Gathering myself up and heading for the exit doors of the gymnasium, I could not help but wonder if the constituents we serve truly understand the lengths to which the police will go to "protect and serve." We strive to be guardians--for everyone. We take a solemn oath to uphold rights--for everyone. For 365 days a year, 24/7, no matter the odds or the danger(s), we remain vigilant in our quest to defend our most vulnerable and voiceless. Most importantly, each and every officer must come to terms with the unimaginable: when it is my time to step up, am I willing to answer the call that may put me in harm's way? Young Trooper Trevor Casper understood this mission. In acting with valor, Trooper Casper demonstrated that he didn't lose his life in service, he GAVE his life in service.
As I was driving back to Madison, I recalled a recent national survey conducted by a police magazine. The magazine polled over 3,000 veteran police officers and asked them if they would ever encourage a family member or friend to go into policing given the current state of affairs in our country. Over 80% of those polled said that given the levels of danger and disrespect for the difficult job that is "law enforcement," they would not want someone they cared about to pursue this line of work. That is a sad commentary to reflect upon. Thank God that there are still those who will strive to serve, in spite of an inhospitable work environment that seldom offers praise amidst seemingly relentless criticism. This country cannot survive without the Trevor Casper's of this world, willing to defy the odds in an attempt to keep us all safe.
To those officers who remain in this temporal world of ours, your acts of heroism began on the day you first took a public pledge to serve. In taking this step, you committed to a noble cause that has inherent risks and incalculable unknowns. Your willingness to enter into such a compact defines all that is still good and hopeful for humanity. Thank you!