In the Line of Duty

by Maryanne Pope

The above photo was taken in Edmonton, Alberta on Sunday September 29th, 2013, at the annual Alberta Peace and Police Officer’s Memorial Service. Since the service that year fell on the actual 13th anniversary of John’s death, he was the officer highlighted. From left to right are: Cliff O’Brien (Calgary Police Service), me, Joel Matthews (Calgary Police Service) and Glenn Laird (Calgary Police Service).

It was a powerful service. As such, I look like I’d just been through the wringer – because I had.

This is the seventh in a series of ten articles.
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Moments before this photo was taken, I had spoken to the media about why public memorials such as this are so important – both for the family & friends of the fallen officer, as well as for the thousands of living officers who put their lives on the line on a daily basis…and their loved ones who hope to God they never get the call I did.

Thankfully, I also got the chance to mention the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund (JPMF) and how the public can play a significant role in helping to ensure emergency responders make it home safely to their families after every shift.

Fourteen years ago, I never would’ve thought I’d say this but the fact is: talking to the media after all these years of experience is not emotionally difficult. What matters is that I deliver the sound bites they need (personal loss = engaged viewers) and what we – the JPMF – need to communicate to the public: why and how people need to make their workplace safe for everyone.

In other words, I didn’t look like I’d been through the wringer because of speaking to the media. On the contrary, I was thankful for the opportunity to deliver the JPMF’s safety messages.

Rather, it was prior to speaking to the media that I’d been bawling like a baby – during the actual service. Truth be told, it was the damn song, You Raise Me Up, by John Groban that did me in.

Services such as these are difficult because they bring to the surface all the old sorrow. Yet they are also tremendously cathartic – in small doses – because those tears are a healthy release. Memorial services have their place, absolutely. But I think it is in our everyday actions, including taking the time to reflect on what we’ve learned, where we can most honour the ones we’ve lost.

John Petropoulos and Sable
John Petropoulos and Sable

What I felt most during that service was gratitude – for all that John gave me in life and in death, for our friends and family, for the police officers who started the JPMF and for the amazing people who work tirelessly for the Fund to help create a culture where workplace safety for everyone is a top priority.

Interestingly, however, it was the K-9 dog, standing proudly with his handler beside their colleagues in the Edmonton Police Service, who I focused on throughout the service. Watching the dog gave me a sense of comfort because I felt an unmistakable connection to John. Perhaps it was the way the dog seemed a bit agitated, as if he’d had enough of all the pomp and circumstance and bagpipes and wanted to get back to work!

For that was exactly how I’d felt after John’s death when I joined his teammates for their parade before shift. As much as I appreciated hearing everyone’s stories about John, I also remember thinking – odd as it might sound – that if all these police officers were sitting in a boardroom talking about John and police work, then who was policing the community?

In retrospect, of course, I now understand the importance  of debriefing after an officer’s death. But I think what I was experiencing in the parade room that day was perhaps a bit of John’s tenacious spirit because he would much rather have been back on the street as soon as possible, working, than talking about a comrade’s death. For that, I have learned – and will be discussing in a future blog – is the very ground where many police officers will avoid treading at all costs…even though the costs not to do so are often immense.

Another possible reason why I felt a sense of comfort and connection to John while watching the K-9 dog at the Edmonton memorial service, was the fact that it had been a K-9 officer, Darren Leggatt, and his dog, Gino, who had gone into the warehouse with John. Since Gino couldn’t climb the ladder to search the mezzanine level, John had done so. Then when John fell into the lunchroom below, Darren and Gino found him. Darren had told me how agitated Gino had been, barking madly, while Darren performed CPR on John.

So about a week after the Edmonton memorial service, I was in my kitchen making dinner and I turned on the radio – and what I heard felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. A K-9 dog, Quanto, from the Edmonton Police Service had been violently killed in the line of duty.

I burst into tears. I don’t know whether Quanto was the same K-9 dog I had been watching at the Edmonton service or not. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that there was yet another name to be engraved on a dove-shaped plaque on the memorial pillar commemorating those who have given their lives in the line of duty.

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