Given the critical role of law enforcement in our communities today, it can be hard to imagine that it wasn’t until the 1880s that all major U.S. cities had established municipal police forces. But throughout much of American history, law enforcement had primarily operated under the informal practice of a communal “Watch,” which might be supervised by constables who were often paid for each writ served and warrant executed. As Dr. Gary Potter explains in “History of Policing in the United States, Part 1,” the night watch was intended to warn of impending danger, and was not especially effective in fighting crime. With the growth of cities, this loose organization of law enforcement entities began to be replaced by professional, centralized police forces with standard codes and procedures.
Today, our police departments and agencies are anchors in our communities, comprised of those who risk their lives and injury every day to provide protection and safety for us all. We are honored to celebrate National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day on Saturday, January 9. For those of us who are civilians, this is an excellent opportunity to express gratitude and support to those individuals who put everything on the line to keep our communities safe and secure.
As we salute our law enforcement family, we are reminded that more is asked of individuals in this occupation than those of almost any other profession. On the other hand, it doesn’t take much effort to demonstrate appreciation for the commitment and courage they demonstrate. For those of us who would like to find meaningful ways to support law enforcement on Saturday, we drew inspiration from Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) and other police organizations that first established National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day in 2015:
Wear or display blue: The predominate color theme for expressing solidarity among law enforcement, civilians can also pay tribute by wearing blue and/or by hanging a blue ribbon from a car antenna, mailbox, motorcycle, or other item. Another option is to place a single blue light in your window, or turn on a blue light on your front porch or deck. As Project Blue Light reminds us, ornamental light fixtures (e.g., Christmas tree lights) are readily available at this time of year.
Share a positive message about law enforcement: Social media can be an effective way to help create goodwill by relaying a helpful individual experience you’ve had with law enforcement. If you don’t want to make your message too personal, consider sharing an inspirational quote. For a place to start, check out some samples of quotes here. Be sure to use #LawEnforcementAppreciationDay to help build the momentum on January 9.
Send a gift or letter: Unless you live with a member of law enforcement, you may be unlikely to encounter a police officer this weekend during the pandemic. But a gift of lunch or treats sent from a food delivery service to your local department or precinct is a thoughtful gesture likely to be appreciated by busy officers. While pizza tends to go over well with most people in general, you can always send a gift card if you would rather provide more options. Have children experiencing overload from too much screen time? Try engaging them in a letter writing session to express support to a local police department or state agency, or even just have them send a card of thanks.
Take part in a Blue Blood Drive: During the month of January, C.O.P.S. is partnering with the American Red Cross and community blood centers across the country to hold over 60 Blue Blood Drives in honor of law enforcement. Many of these will actually take place on January 9 to coincide with National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.
As Law Enforcement Today explains, “This is a great opportunity for our C.O.P.S family, the law enforcement community, and the public to join forces to show our nation’s law enforcement that we care enough to take time in our busy lives to save a life by giving blood, just like they save lives every day.” Even if you’re not located near an official “Blue Blood Drive” site, you can still participate by giving blood at a donation center near you. Pledge to give blood at SleevesUp for C.O.P.S. If you’re so inclined, take a photo of yourself donating blood and share it on social media using #HeroesAreOurType. To find an American Red Cross donation center in your area, visit https://www.redcrossblood.org.
Make a donation to a police organization or foundation: Whether you would prefer to make a one-time donation or a monthly contribution, there are numerous worthy nonprofits dedicated to making a positive impact on the lives of law enforcement and their families. You can find information on the financial health, accountability and transparency on nearly 10,000 charities at Charity Navigator. Other services that provide vital information on charitable nonprofits are BBB Wise Giving, GuideStar and CharityWatch. As C.O.P.S. reminds us, many employers offer payroll deductions for supporting your charity of choice, and some will even match your gift. You might also consider making a non-cash donation. For instance, C.O.P.S. partners with Vehicles for Charity to process vehicle donations, and accepts in-kind donations of all types (i.e., products and merchandise for raffles, silent auctions and survivor gifts).
Looking ahead: If you’re motivated to get more involved in those activities that support law enforcement, and have the initiative to help launch an event yourself, C.O.P.S. has some great suggestions that might spark your interest for next year. Check out their ideas, ranging from rodeos and poker tournaments, to cross-country bike treks and fishing tournaments, here.
Say something when you see them: Given the challenges of being a police officer today, there is no time like the present to thank them for the sacrifices they make every day. So, for those of us civilians who do cross paths with a law enforcement officer this weekend, whatever their relation to you, be sure to thank them sincerely for their service.