- Robert S. Mueller, III
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Concerns of Police Survivors Police Week Luncheon
- Alexandria, Virginia
- May 14, 2007
Good afternoon. It is an honor to be here today.
National Police Week is a time for reflection and a time for remembrance. A time to gather together to recognize those men and women who have lost their lives in the line of duty. But it is also a time to recognize those who have lost a loved one—spouses and siblings, parents and children, friends and colleagues.
The law enforcement officers we honor this week were dedicated public servants. But they were much more than that to many of you, and you bear their loss most deeply. An officer’s family always pays the premium for freedom, justice, and the rule of law—even at the greatest cost.
I want to talk for a moment about what we as leaders face when an officer dies in the line of duty. There are few words as feared in law enforcement as the words “officer down.” And there are few crises as great as when we lose one of our own.
We hope we never encounter a line of duty death. But we must prepare for that day, and we must be ready to do what is necessary for the surviving families and fellow officers.
We as leaders must provide strength and direction. We must meet the many needs of police survivors, from notifying loved ones to providing financial support, benefits information, and grief counseling.
We must also consider the needs of our own personnel. Officers often believe they are made of sterner stuff. They may feel they have no time for grief or need for solace. For that reason, they often fail to get the help they need. And if they seek help, it may not be readily available.
The same is true for surviving family members. There is a prevailing view that police survivors should be better able to handle the death of a loved one. But it does not matter if you know the inherent risks; the impact is the same. You have lost someone you love.
The grieving process is further complicated by the fact that when an officer dies, the loss is a public one. Family members and colleagues may have to relive the trauma through internal investigations, court proceedings, and media exposure.
In short, a police survivor’s grief is not just his or her own; it is the department’s grief, the community’s grief. And, at times, it is the nation’s grief.
We must recognize the importance of communication and coordination following a line of duty death. We must set policies and procedures to deal with these complex issues, to ensure that no one falls through the cracks.
In the FBI, we are fortunate to have numerous resources at our disposal. Mental health professionals, grief counselors, trauma recovery experts, and chaplains stand ready to meet with family members and FBI personnel in the aftermath of tragic events.
Not all departments or agencies are able to provide the same types or levels of support. For that reason, we offer our services to all local agencies in times of crisis.
Regardless of resources, however, there must be a coordinated response—one that does not end after the memorial service.
We have lost three agents in the past two years—Rob Hardesty, of the Springfield, Illinois, field office; Greg Rahoi, a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team; and Barry Bush, of the Newark, New Jersey, field office.
The memorial services for these agents were powerful and moving experiences—patrol cars and motorcycles rolling through town, officers joined together in sorrow, regardless of agency, department, or rank.
In few other professions is there such solidarity, particularly on the darkest of days. Perhaps it is because law enforcement officers know that when they say goodbye to their families each morning, they may not return home at night.
I did not know Rob Hardesty, Greg Rahoi, or Barry Bush personally, but I have come to know them through their families, friends, and colleagues. These men put their lives on the line each day, for their communities, for their countries, and for the citizens they served.
We together have a responsibility to recognize the contributions made by officers killed in the line of duty, an obligation to support their family members and friends, to ease their burdens if we are able and to help find meaning in these tragedies.
On the National Law Enforcement Memorial website, there are messages from police survivors to those they lost.
In one posting, a wife tells her husband that although eight years have passed, the pain is still sharp. A son tells his father that he is going to have a baby and asks his father to help him make the right choices.
A child tells his father that he has been promoted to fourth grade and that he misses him, especially on Father’s Day. These messages are proof that life goes on, but that loss does not disappear.
These individuals remind us of why we do what we do and who we are sworn to serve and protect. And we, in turn, must let them know they are not forgotten and that they are always in our thoughts.
I want to take a moment to express my sincere appreciation for the work of Jean Hill and Suzie Sawyer and their colleagues at COPS. It is difficult to help those in the midst of such traumatic events. But the staff and volunteers of COPS act with true grace under pressure.
One particular example comes to mind. In June 2005, FBI Special Agent Rob Hardesty was killed in a training accident. When members of the Indiana chapter of COPS learned of Rob’s death, they offered his wife, Toni, and their children, Sydney and Carly, immediate assistance.
They helped Toni with the funeral arrangements. They lent support and guidance when she needed it most. They gave the Hardestys a shared community in which to grieve, with other families who truly understood their loss.
They also encouraged Toni to take Sydney and Carly to the COPS Kids’ Camp that July. Toni wrote the following words in a letter to Suzie: “At this point, I was grasping for anything that could possibly help my girls get through this terrible tragedy. ... I remember walking into camp the first night … looking at all the children and realizing that my girls were not alone. Not only were they not alone, it was obvious that these kids were thriving … in spite of each tragedy these children represented.”
COPS is helping Toni, Sydney, and Carly rebuild their lives. And they do the same with countless other families and fellow officers across the country every day.
In the past 10 years alone, more than 1,600 officers have been killed in the line of duty. That is more than 1,600 families to care for, to support, and to strengthen. We are grateful for their many efforts.
* * *
Although it happened 21 years ago, I still remember the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded, just seconds after lift-off. After the explosion, we all watched and waited, in silence, shock, and quiet disbelief.
In his speech to the nation that night, President Reagan said, “We have never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle. But they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, overcame them, and did their jobs brilliantly. ... They wished to serve, and they did. ... Their dedication was complete.”
These words ring true today. With each officer we lose, we face a new tragedy. And perhaps we forget the courage it takes to patrol the streets each day, to investigate crime and terrorism, to take down drug dealers, gang members, and violent criminals.
Your loved ones were aware of these dangers. They overcame these dangers. And they did their jobs brilliantly. Their dedication was complete.
Yet we cannot forget the courage it has taken for each of you to carry on with your lives, to help others who are suffering the same sense of loss, to be here this week to honor your loved ones. Your dedication and your sacrifices are also complete.
The legacies of those officers killed in the line of duty live on, through those of you here today, and through their fellow police officers across the country and around the world.
We will continue the work they began, but we will not forget. We will recover, but we will not forget. We will move forward, but we will not forget.
Thank you for having me here today. God bless.