- - Monday, March 7, 2016

As I write this, I am watching the funeral procession for Ashley Guindon who at age 28 was shot to death in the line of duty less than 24 hours after being sworn in as a police officer by the Prince William County Police Department in Virginia.

During her first shift on-duty, the department received a call about a domestic shooting. Guindon and two other officers did what police do. While everyone else runs away from trouble, they run toward it. As the officers approached the home that was subject of the complaint, shots rang out. The husband involved in a domestic dispute opened fire and struck all three police officers. Guindon was killed.

While it being Guindon’s first day on the job makes her loss stand out, law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty is a story that we hear all too often. So far this year, 17 men and women have died protecting their communities. Some passed in auto accidents but the overwhelming majority died as a result of gunfire. The stories are stunning, shocking and much closer to home after an experience I had a couple of weeks back.

I was invited by the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund to experience its police course simulator. The course is a realistic, interactive walk-through of several real-life situations officers may come across on any given day. I walked into a variety of realistic law enforcement response situations armed with a gun and pepper spray. I had to discern the good guys from the bad guys. Even among the bad guys I had to figure out the level of danger they posed to me and to others and not pull my weapon unnecessarily.

One of the scenarios had me enter a live shooting situation at a school with my police partner. As we cleared classrooms and hallways, occasional gunfire could be heard. The tension mounted. We cautiously kept proceeding toward the sounds of shouts and gunfire. In a split second, I heard a loud bang and looked to see my partner had been shot in the head. Just like that, he was gone.

In my case, it was a simulation. No actual life was lost, but for a split second the shock was real. It was a jolt to see how quickly things could go bad. In my case, we stopped the simulation, talked about how things had been handled and what we could do differently. On Feb. 27, Ashley Guindon didn’t get the chance to stop and review. She got no “do over” and she’s not alone.

On the same day the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund hosted me, two sheriff’s deputies in Harford County, Md., Patrick Dailey and Mark Logsdon, were both killed by gunfire. Perhaps it was the fact their real-life shootings occurred nearly simultaneous with my simulated experience, but I was deeply impacted by their story — and those that have followed.

My simulation of a police officer’s experience lasted only a couple hours. There was pressure to perform well, not be embarrassed by poor choices or inadequate reflexes. But when it was over, regardless of how well I performed, I knew I would go back to the radio studio and eventually back home.

Ashley Guindon’s death on the first day on the job is a reminder that every man and woman who puts on a badge hopes they end each day at home, but in the real world, it doesn’t always work out. These are real people, with real families and real lives. They aren’t characters in a morality play. They are flesh and blood, just like you.

When you see the next protest by Black Lives Matter or disgruntled college kids, be thankful for our free speech rights that allow it. Make sure, however, that you’re equally thankful for the men and women in blue. They aren’t the enemy. They aren’t the bad guys.

Law enforcement strives to keep us safe, often at their own peril. Support them. Thank them and say a prayer for them.

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