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National Police Week: Thanking officers all the more important during pandemic


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ This year, National Police Week is happening at the same time the world is battling a global pandemic, and though the way people honor law enforcement may be different, Eyewitness News law enforcement analyst Steven O’Donnell says an officer’s dedication to the job doesn’t change.

The U.S. Congress recommended President John F. Kennedy pass legislation for a police officer’s day in 1961, according to O’Donnell.

As the former leader of the Rhode Island State Police, O’Donnell said that day subsequently turned into an entire week, though Peace Officers Memorial Day is celebrated on May 15 each year.

O’Donnell said that this year, officers are dealing with their regular duties, as well as the effects of COVID-19.

“They have to kind of re-do and re-train how they think as they approach somebody with a mask on and the secondary piece is they are approaching people with a mask on too to protect themselves from COVID-19,” O’Donnell said.

National Police Week in Rhode Island started just days after a police officer was stabbed in the leg in Cumberland.

Cumberland Police Chief John Desmarais said the officer was investigating a report of a suspicious person behind the high school and, after a brief chase, the suspect pulled out a knife and stabbed the officer in the thigh.

Desmarais said the officer then fired at the suspect. Both were taken to Rhode Island Hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

“Within a second, a pulse, it turns into a deadly encounter and the police have to be ready 100% of the time,” O’Donnell said.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund sponsored a virtual candlelight vigil on YouTube Wednesday night to pay tribute to those who died in the line of duty in 2019.

O’Donnell said that National Police Week is just as much about supporting the families of fallen police officers as it is about thanking someone with a police badge.

“Everybody is concerned about the unknown, as well as law enforcement, as well as their families who worry about them every time they walk out the door,” O’Donnell said

O’Donnell said so far this year, there have been 73 police officers killed in the line of duty nationwide. He said that’s a concerning percentage increase since there were nearly 146 police officers killed during the entirety of 2019. 

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