Honoring, Respecting Fallen Heroes
There is a price to pay for living in paradise, but as I grew to appreciate as mayor, there are men and women in uniform who pay a greater price to protect those who reside in and visit our beautiful islands. Unless you can actually experience what it’s like to be in the line of duty or know of a fallen police or law enforcement officer, you cannot begin to imagine the sacrifice and courage that go with the job.
The same can be said for other first responders who put their lives on the line constantly to ensure that our state, cities and towns are protected 24/7. Witness the recent loss of those 19 brave firefighters in Prescott, Ariz., who lost their lives by putting themselves in harm’s way trying to save their community.
If you think it’s a challenge to keep order in the home, dedicated public servants like police officers have bigger responsibilities in the prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of public order. They leave their families daily, often confronted by the unexpected.
“For a few of them, I can tell you there is a slight chance they might not come home. But I assure you the first thing on their minds is serving their community and fulfilling their job. Police worry little about themselves, and their priorities are focused on community safety and serving our people,” says Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha.
The chief takes pride in the City and County of Honolulu being the safest city in the nation in terms of gun violence.
“We have lower rates of violent crimes per capita in the country,” he says.
Under his administration at HPD, there have been three “In the Line of Duty” fatal incidents: Eric Fontes, Chad Morimoto and Garrett Davis.
“Fontes was struck by a vehicle while conducting a traffic stop and died in the ambulance on his way to the hospital in September 2011. Morimoto was killed in a motorcycle accident while participating in a police escort training last July. Davis died in a fiery crash while helping a stalled motorist on the H-1 Freeway last January,” recounts Chief Kealoha.
During Police Week, which is observed nationally in May each year, Chief Kealoha accompanied family members of Hawaii’s heroes to a candlelight vigil held at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., where he also was privileged to address the gathering. The Fraternal Order of Police Remembrance Ceremony recognizes the service and sacrifice of U.S. law enforcement officers. Names of silent heroes from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, federal law enforcement and military police agencies are engraved on the Memorial Wall.
National studies have shown that a police officer’s life span after retirement averages between five and seven years, which is attributed directly to the demands and stresses of police work. An example of this is the number of 911 calls they respond to. Of the nearly 1 million 911 calls that Honolulu’s first responders received in each 2011 and 2012, HPD was responsible for answering 75 percent of those calls.
SHOPO president and acting Cmdr. Tenari Ma’afala of the HPD Peer Support Unit survived a tragic shooting situation in 1999.
“Until this very moment I still think about the young man and his family. There’s never a day that goes by that I don’t think of what it would be like for my wife and three daughters had I been killed in that incident,” he says.
One of my leadership maxims is, “Never make a decision based on fear.” But our men and women in blue are often forced to make life-threatening decisions at a moment’s notice, particularly when they are facing death right in the eye.
“We are humans, and sometimes we’re susceptible to making mistakes,” says Ma’afala. “But at the end of the day, we are all about doing – at great personal sacrifice – what is best for our community and our fellow man.”
Ma’afala asks the public for their continued trust, respect and support for all police officers.
After all, given what they are expected to do on our behalf, they and our ohana of first responders are deserving of all the respect and honor our community can provide, including a special salute to our fallen heroes who have paid the ultimate price to serve and protect!