Fallen officers honored virtually amid pandemic

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A week that is typically marked by powerful ceremonies honoring fallen police officers is instead commemorated by virtual memorials and personnel working 12-hour shifts to minimize any potential spread of COVID-19.

National Police Week began Monday and Friday marks Peace Officers Memorial Day to honor those who died or were injured in the line of duty. 

“We don’t want this week to go by without recognition and I can say it hasn’t gone by without recognition, we have been reached out to, but it does feel different. It does feel less connected,” Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young told News 8.

In previous years, the sheriff has taken part in the Unity Ride that converges on Washington D.C. to mark the week in addition to local ceremonies. 

Those annual events are currently replaced by focus on protecting the community during this pandemic.

Only one person within the department has contracted COVID-19. LaJoye-Young credits their changes to scheduling and added sanitation for keeping staff healthy, but the changes do leave an impact on personnel.

“We miss each other,” she explained. “We miss the times that we come together and whether it’s sharing a lunch or sharing a coffee or briefing, we don’t really have those circumstances right now.”

Additionally, area departments typically take part in a memorial at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum during National Police Week.

“No matter the weather or the circumstances, we’ve always been able to come together somehow and recognize not just the GRPD personnel, but a number of fallen heroes who have ties to West Michigan. This year has definitely, obviously, been unique because we can’t get together and celebrate like we normally would,” Grand Rapids Police Sgt. Dan Adams told News 8. 

To adapt to the current reality, GRPD posted a video to Facebook to mark this year’s memorial.

The department continues its modified schedule of seven 12-hour shifts as part of its COVID-19 response. Adams believes that’s helped in keeping everyone on the force healthy.

Even though people can’t gather to remember the fallen this week, posts of encouragement and appreciation made on social media carry a little extra weight for law enforcement right now.

“We don’t do this for the huge paycheck or the pats on the back or anything like that, but when we see those kind words it really goes a long way. It’s always a nice reminder of why we got into this business in the first place,” Adams said.