There is a moment for every law enforcement officer when the realities of the job hit home; that moment is often when one of us is killed in the line of duty and we realize that it could have been us. In this day of social media and the 24 hour news cycle, something that happens across the country is instantly part of our lives. The more horrific the incident the more it will stay in our personal lives and consciousness, replayed a thousand times on TV, radio and the internet.

When we find out that an officer died as a result of responding to a routine call; like a domestic dispute or an alarm, we suddenly see the millions of instances that we too have been in those exact same circumstances and have been lucky enough to walk away from it, that for whatever reason the people we were dealing with didn’t want to kill us. It is the simple recognition that we cannot predict when that moment of truth may come that we understand the true danger of our job. 

We took an oath, donned a badge and gun and swore to protect and serve the public. The idea of dying while at work is one that we think about when we start out as new cops, but often fades as time goes on. We become accustomed to handling people: angry people, violent people, mentally unstable people and everything in between. We take the danger and put it in a box, we isolate it and think that we will always be able to come out on top. We all say “I’m going home tonight” and we believe it. 

This is how we handle the possibility. This is how we control it. But do we ever look beyond that and take a pro-active approach to making sure we survive every shift? Does our agency provide the training and the opportunity to practice the physical and mental things we need to always keep in the forefront of our minds every time we go out onto the street? 

This is a question we should all ask ourselves. If the answer is yes, then you are part of an organization that is doing all it can to help you and your fellow officers. If the answer is no then it is up to YOU to speak up. Ask for more training on deadly situations like edged weapons encounters, EDP interaction or surviving a gun fight or crisis situation. Talking about these things during a shift briefing goes a long way to setting the tone that we don’t just give lip service to “We all come home tonight”, but that we live it.

Complacency is a natural result of our job, especially as we gain in experience. We get good at the things we do every day and we take them for granted. This is part of the mental preparation we need to keep up on. We need to talk about the dangers and how to prepare for them and what we could do if we found ourselves in a place where it becomes life and death. Then we have to be aware.

For many of our fallen comrades death came during a normal call, a call we are used to; a car stop, or a response to a disorderly person, a call where the idea of dying wasn’t a part of the picture. How many times have we heard of an officer rolling up to a house, parking directly out front and getting shot as they approached the home? In my 27 years on the job, I’ve heard it too many times, but how many of us do something different to avoid a needless tragedy?

Paying the ultimate price is a part of the job, and we accept it. What makes it almost unthinkable is when that sacrifice is not made while saving a victim, interrupting a robbery gone bad or any of the other thousands of things we dedicate ourselves to as we protect and serve; when the loss of an officer is at the hands of a person who ambushes us we are stunned. A killer who strikes while we are simply there, eating lunch, or talking to a partner is something hard to imagine let alone prepare for.  

But prepare we must. The world is a different place than it was only a few years ago. We are coarser as a society, the words we use and the things we do are more dangerous. Our civil society is changing radically; no longer do we sit down to discuss our problems, instead we strike first. Respect is no longer regarded as a normal part of our interaction, now respect is something to be parsed out as the giver sees fit. For our police officers it means being on alert at all times. 

Answering calls should never be seen as routine again; every car stop should be made with due diligence, every response should require the officer to consider the possibilities and take precautions. And yes even as we stop for a coffee or sit in our patrol cars we must be prepared. And most importantly we must talk about these things as part of training and everyday activities.    

The loss of the two brave police officers in New York is a profoundly sad day for them, their families, and all of America. Their senseless murder comes as a direct consequence of the place we find ourselves in as a nation and serves as a vivid example of where we are headed and is a wakeup call to the new realities we all face. 

When we cease to be a nation of laws; led by corrupt men and women who choose a path different from our founding and traditions, we descend into chaos and violence; history has taught this lesson very well. It has become stylish and popular to trash our American culture; to pretend that our very nature is fraught with evil and must be destroyed and reborn as some Utopian dreamscape. This is both foolish and dangerous as the events in New York demonstrate, especially when the police are considered part of the problem that must be destroyed.

When our leaders stand by and watch thousands of our fellow citizens chant- “Death to the cops” and they not only applaud, but join in with their silent acquiescence, to show unity with those who profess such malice, then we have truly began the slow walk toward our own demise.

We cannot continue on this road or our experiment in liberty will not survive. We will be condemned to serve as a footnote in the long book of human experience; a people that once flirted with freedom only to abandon it for our darker nature and return to the world of brute force and oppression.    

As law enforcement officers we live by higher ideals: service to others, justice, freedom and protection of the innocent and weak. These are our guiding principles and the hallmarks of the law enforcement profession. We must stand tall as this world changes, even in the face of such danger; we are the only thing that stands between liberty and tyranny, and we must be prepared. 

Be careful out there my brothers and sisters in blue and remember; while there are many who mean us harm, there are millions who need us and appreciate the work we do and the risks to our very lives we take every day.

Joseph Pangaro is a retired Police Lieutenant from the Township of Ocean, Monmouth County, NJ. During his 27 year career, Lieutenant Pangaro served in many capacities. After nine years as a patrol officer, he was transferred to the detective bureau where he served for 12 years. During that time, Lt. Pangaro prepared and executed hundreds of search warrants, testified in numerous high profile criminal court cases and excelled in the area of criminal investigations including; homicides, sexual assaults, drug crimes, fraud, burglary, juvenile investigations, economic crimes, vice crimes, quality of life crimes and other crimes of violence. He has acted in undercover capacities and worked with numerous local, county, state, and federal agencies. Joseph Pangaro served as a sergeant in the detective bureau, supervising a group of highly motivated and active officers in the unit as well as the “Quality of Life” unit.