A sincere thanks for taking the time to read our posts and getting to know a little bit more about the BLUE 815 team. In the wake of tragedy, I have been lucky to come across such a strong and passionate group of people who are willing to give of themselves for a bigger purpose.
After all - that's why we're here. In case you missed our first post, “This BLUE 815 Thing…”, we feel strongly about highlighting the good our men and women in blue are doing in our community and across the country on a daily basis. Additionally, BLUE 815 keeps you informed of the tragedies that are far too common in law enforcement - close calls, injuries, and, in far too many cases, honoring our fallen.
We are working hard in the Rockford community to help change the narrative surrounding police officers. We are working to change the story they once told - well, some of them told the story, others just accepted it as a part of the job. This story was accepting that officers are overall unsupported, unliked, and significantly unappreciated. Speaking honestly, I have very little first-hand knowledge of those years. The world of law enforcement wasn't one I had any encounters with until about 6 years ago when my brother informed our family he had applied to be a police officer, and the application process was getting to a place that it seemed he would possibly be getting a job offer. He did. And so began my slow introduction to the "thin blue line."
Unfortunately, it took my worst nightmare happening to truly clue me in to what that line was, what it meant, and how my brother and my family fit into it. My cousin was also an officer, starting as a DNR officer with the Illinois State Police, and eventually making a move to Rockford in December 2016 just a couple of year after my brother had started with RPD. When Officer Jaimie Cox, was killed in November 2017, I was familiar with the story being told about police officers being focused on in society, the mainstream media, and local media. I realized very quickly that dark November day that my family, and someone I loved, looked up to, and respected so very much, would be front and center in that national controversy - and right here in our own community. We had been thrown into the middle of it with one "routine traffic stop". What I didn't know was, truly, how much this narrative had impacted our officers and their families and how real the effects were.
I spoke with a friend, who is an officer, during the days following Jaimie's death. I will never forget his words that followed his condolences: "Until this, I had no idea there were so many people out there who cared”.
In that moment of processing the disbelief of that painful statement, I knew in the back of my mind something had to change for them. I want to create the opportunity to share the other narrative - the more common actions of police officers in today's society, and encourage others to take those stories in and share them, too. Sharing the good does not mean there are no bad officers out there in far too many communities doing things that should never be done by anyone who is sworn in oath to serve and protect all citizens. Sharing those stories does not negate the painful history our country holds and the role law enforcement played in that. It means those aren't the majority of the stories surrounding today’s officers. The stories of the bad, corrupt, and untrained officers don’t hold true for a majority of those wearing the badge. It means the news latches onto the most controversial narrative and all too often chooses to highlight those stories without also including the more common, day-to-day positive interactions and actions of police officers. It means the negative actions of a few tend to overshadow the rest - don't most things outside the norm tend to get more attention? Certainly the media has a responsibility to report the negative, but when they choose to only report the negative, they create the one-sided narrative - the stereotype.
Since November 2017, when we started the Police Memorial Bridge petition, I have had wives, children, sisters, and parents of police officers stop me at a number of various (and seemingly random) places and ask if I am behind this group. They have cried to me, hugged me, and thanked me. They've told me the story they lived for so many years - the stories of being a police family. These were stories unfamiliar to me because I didn’t even realize that title applied to me for such a long time. They tell me about feeling lonely, uncertain, and, quite frankly - terrified - for their person who wears a badge. Terrified. Every single time their person went to work. What some have also shared with me is that there's been a change in that story, a new chapter. A shift that allows them to feel even the slightest bit more confident about their person walking out that door for another day or night on the job. I certainly am not doing this for the praise, but hearing what we are doing is having a positive impact on people in this community - that's exactly what we hope for, and hearing about it confirms we are doing something right.
What changed? Outward and Ongoing Community. Support. Blue lights. The community showing up here in this group. Small gifts dropped off to local departments. Those departments publicly thanking their supporters in a way that another department's officers and community members see and hear about. A positive news story from ONE media outlet, picked up by another, and another.
A ripple effect.
I write this post a bit in advance of publishing it. Today is January 9, 2020. National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day (LEAD). Three years ago I did not know this was a recognized "day". My brother was an officer three years ago, but I didn't know it was a day. I don't know if they (the officers) even knew it was a day. It wasn't celebrated in this community - or at least not to the extent I saw today. We saw over 70 shares of our LEAD post from our page - not including the others who shared it from someone else. We saw shares of other groups' or local business' LEAD posts. We saw our local blood bank support the National Blue Blood Drive, admittedly for the first time as they also didn't know it was a "thing" until now. Over 300 people participated in fallen McHenry County Deputy Jake Keltner's honorary blood drive. Our community's schools invited officers in for a visit. WROK interviewed Chief O'Shea of the Rockford, IL Police Department - and included a discussion of the incredible businesses that came together to support our LEOs and others who were involved in a terrifying bank hold up the previous Friday (1/3/2020). Our local news anchors acknowledged the day on local television. The TODAY Show had an upbeat segment dedicated to LEAD on National television.
A ripple effect of good. Of positive. Of acknowledgement.
Regardless of where or when it started, I truly believe Jaimie was a catalyst of it in our community. Selfishly, I'd give anything to have him back, but I won't allow his loss to be for nothing. We'll keep skipping stones, hoping each post, each share, each picture, each story reaches further and makes some sort of difference, no matter how small. Perhaps some of those stories will plant seeds and encourage those with different beliefs or misconceptions to seek another perspective.
I'm glad you're here, and hope you'll help us skip some stones, too.
-Andrea, BLUE 815 chair