Beyond the numbers – honoring our law enforcement officers

By Rod Covey
Port of Seattle Police Chief

In one way or another, we’re all a number. For some of you, a job classification may be tied to a number. Others may be wearing your favorite sports team uniform that has a number on it. As for me, a newly-named police chief, I’m a number as well – badge number 319 at the Port of Seattle Police Department where I’ve served for nearly 10 years.

The third week in May is National Police Week and I want you to consider some other very important numbers. I’m one of more than 900,000 men and women who wear a law enforcement uniform in the U.S. We turn our attention to numbers we wish we’d never have to – the more than 20,000 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty since the first recorded police death in 1791.

We deal in numbers daily and these are the ones we take to heart: 143 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 2016. A 17-year veteran Tacoma Police Officer is among the fallen. While responding to a domestic disturbance call on Nov. 30, Officer Jake Gutierrez lost his life protecting a woman from her violent husband.

I did not know Officer Gutierrez or his family, but I learned some of his story when I attended his funeral with thousands of others. My heart broke watching his friends and family that day while we all remembered the life of an exceptional man. I have seen too many of those days while serving these past 40 years in law enforcement.

Twenty – that’s the number of Arizona State Patrol Officers who lost their lives in the line of duty during my 32 years serving in that department. I had trained most, supervised some, but I had worked with all of them. Many of them were my friends. Each day I wear my badge, they are in my thoughts.

Sgt. Dave Zesiger was one of these 20 and July 3, 1992 is one of the dates I always live with. Dave worked with me in northeast Arizona and was passionate about getting drunk drivers off our highways. From being a great father, fisherman and basketball player, Dave was everything you wanted in a teammate. Tragically, a drunk driver going the wrong way killed Dave in a head-on wreck while he was helping a lost family find their way to a campground.

Much like Officer Gutierrez in Tacoma, you likely don’t know Sgt. Zesiger, but their memories live on with many of us in a number of ways. In Dave’s case, almost 10 years after his death, I had the honor of hiring his son as an Arizona Highway Patrolman. He was so proud to follow in his dad’s footsteps and to take the same oath to serve that his father had taken over 25 years earlier. Sgt. Zesiger’s legacy was also carried on in the years after his death as we worked tirelessly in his memory to boost Arizona’s MADD rating from a D to an A rating. He was my inspiration to push to make the roads free of drunk drivers.

While most of you reading this aren’t law enforcement officers, I hold a title many of you do share – dad. Like any father, I think of my daughter all the time. She’s doing a great job in Arizona, despite a work schedule many folks would not want – Dani goes into work at 9 p.m. and works until 7 a.m., Wednesday through Saturday.

Like me, she pins on a badge before heading into work as an officer for the Gilbert (AZ) Police Department. Like all of us in uniform, she’s not doing it for the money or glory and certainly not the prime hours. It’s not even about following in my footsteps. No, she’s doing it because of an innate duty to serve like I did as a cop and her mom did as a school teacher. I am so proud of her but I also worry every night she puts on the uniform.

Dani may be just another number on the Gilbert PD roster, but like the other 900,000-plus law enforcement officers, they are all number one with so many of us. So please take a moment to remember the men and women who were lost while serving their communities. Remember their families and loved ones who carry on after their sacrifice.

Also take a moment to reach out to the officers who serve in the town in which you live and let them know how much you appreciate the very difficult work they do. You can do this by email, a text, a phone call or a handshake when you see them. I promise every one of them will appreciate your message of thanks and for being thought of as more than just a badge number.

Rod Covey was recently promoted to Port of Seattle Police Chief. He’s been with the Port for nearly 10 years and previously served with the Arizona Highway Patrol, rising through the ranks to become chief.


One Response to “Beyond the numbers – honoring our law enforcement officers”
  1. Kathryn Campbell says:

    Thank you for reminding us that “protect and serve” is more than an empty phrase. I am proud of our officers in SeaTac and at our airport.