When approached several months ago to speak Oct. 10 at Minnesota’s memorial site for fallen law enforcement officers, I accepted — with some hesitancy.
The public event in St. Paul was the Blue Light Service, held annually each October to honor peace officers who have died in Minnesota. The nonprofit Minnesota Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) sponsors the program and also, for participating survivors, a private dinner that precedes the event. Minnesota COPS uses the occasion to help promote the display of blue lights — a color associated with peace and with law enforcement — during the holiday seasons to pay tribute to the fallen officers.
It’s a fine and very worthwhile event. I consider it a privilege to even have been invited to be there, much less speak to the families and friends of these deceased heroes.
Still, I expected to struggle with this task.
It’s become increasingly difficult and even stressful for me to find the right words – any adequate words, really – since the tragic, violent circumstances of July 30, 2014. Death came far too abruptly, intimately and senselessly to my family that day.
Ever since, emotion sometimes clouds once-vivid memories and circumvents clear thought.
And my every subsequent attempt to describe Scott Patrick, publicly and privately, feels to me woefully incomplete.
Ultimately, when I turned my approach both backward and forward, I finally found enough footing to at least carry a completed, if clearly imperfect speech to the podium that night. Here’s what I wrote:
Thank you for the support and kindnesses you’ve shown the immediate and extended families of my late brother.
The impact of your actions is indelible.
I’m honored and certainly humbled to be invited to speak to this gathering tonight.
Yet, that I even qualify to do so brings me great sorrow.
It’s not been a little more than 14 months since Mendota Heights Police officer Scott Thomas Patrick was killed by three gunshots during a traffic stop in West St. Paul.
He was 47 and my second-youngest brother.
But our family knew since he was a boy that there was a certain confidence and maturity about him that defied his age.
Scott was in so many ways a noble spirit — a quick-witted spirit, at that, with a repeated desire to challenge the people he cared about most to be better people than they already were. He never aspired to sainthood, and frankly would relish the opportunity to highlight his numerous disqualifications.
Scott needed only to be himself, because he was a very fine man who regularly displayed his generosity, higher moral character and quiet courage.
We’ve always been proud of him, so his sudden, senseless death on duty has not changed what his life by then had ensured.
Just as I’m sorry I will never have the pleasure of meeting the other officers we pay tribute to this evening, I also wish all of you could have known or at least met Scott.
I miss him immeasurably, and love him every bit as much.
It doesn’t seem real some days that it’s been 14 months.
Scott’s name is the most recent one added to the Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association’s honor roll of officers who lost their lives while on duty or as a result of injuries that occurred on duty.
It’s sobering and sorrowful, this uneasy awareness I have — that something we all know to be true has not yet become fact.
And that is the identity of the next officer down.
Somewhere here in Minnesota, there is the peace officer who is approaching an unexpected end of watch.
I wish it was only a premonition and not a truly sad inevitability.
Death may come via gunshot, or a patrol vehicle accident. An errant or intoxicated driver, or perhaps heart failure while in pursuit of a suspect.
Whatever the cause, if we knew how to prevent it, we would. All of us would.
We don’t want anyone to feel that fresh rush of devastation that we helplessly experienced back when we each learned the fate of OUR law enforcement hero.
And we know from experience that Minnesota’s next peace officer death will rekindle some of our most shattering memories and ripple through our well-tattered scars.
The next officer down we’ll memorialize here is still out there. Somewhere.
And nobody should blame us that we take it personally.
Most of you know what it’s like to wonder whether an officer will ever be the one not coming home.
I remember when I learned that Scott was never coming back.
I hung up the phone in my office in Grand Forks, North Dakota , got up to close the door and sat alone, staring at everything within four walls but seeing nothing — except a mental kaleidoscope of life images of my brother.
I felt as though I was drowning in a flash flood of complete helplessness.
I take no solace in the fact that many of you have experienced just what I’m describing.
And my heart weeps for the next new survivors-to-be — because they will understand, too.
So, please, allow me now to take a few moments to share my wishes for Minnesota’s next fallen peace officer.
May this officer’s remaining time of life be lived to its fullest.
May this officer know during his dwindling time all the love, honor and respect he or she has earned and in turn provided.
May this next officer down find the time to recognize and appreciate those remaining actions, deeds and other moments of kindness that have made true and positive contributions in his or her life — and in the lives of family, friends, colleagues and community.
May this officer’s training, experience, integrity and ethical standards set examples of professionalism that will guide and inspire future officers throughout their own careers and influence the aspirations of law enforcement newcomers.
May this officer’s remaining efforts to serve and protect the community be accompanied by clear participation in and compassion for that community’s social, economic and moral fabric.
May that same community recognize, respect and appreciate — in clear and tangible ways — the extraordinary challenges faced and split-second responses that this officer handled in ways both appropriate and just.
Because of exemplary service, just conduct and true convictions, may this peace officer know that law enforcement brothers and sisters near and far will pay great tribute in solidarity and long aid loved ones who survived the officer’s great sacrifice.
May the next Minnesota officer on the honor roll be assured that his or her life will be remembered long after the circumstance that ended the watch.
And may this officer use the remainder of life to shape a most honorable legacy.
I realize the next one on this honor roll could be ANY officer in Minnesota . . . so let me extend these hopes to every officer in Minnesota.
From Ada to Zumbrota . . . from Aitkin County to Yellow Medicine County . . . in every state, federal, local, tribal and independent department, agency and division.
To each officer, in each of your journeys: blessed be the peacemakers.
It hurts with all my heart to see Scott Patrick’s name on that honor roll right now.
But though I know better, I truly wish Scott’s name would be – and will be — the last.
– – –
My speech was outdated a mere eight days after I gave it. That’s when we learned the identity of the next officer down.
And I recognized my tears.
Steven M. Sandberg, 60, a husband and father, a sheriff’s deputy and longtime department investigator in Aitkin County, was shot and killed inside a St. Cloud hospital by a domestic abuse suspect who, according to authorities, managed to grab Sandberg’s gun and fatally shoot him.
According to authorities, Hammond himself died after he was subdued with a stun gun.
Deputy Sandberg’s funeral was held Friday in Aitkin. His community stood in mourning with his grieving family, as did much of the state and region. Thousands of law enforcement and other public safety colleagues paid their own respects – in thought and prayer as well as physical presence.
Scott Patrick’s family likewise stands with Steven Sandberg’s family, and the families of other past fallen officers.
We all understand. It’s all too familiar and fresh in our minds.
Worst of all, we recognize once again that this isn’t the end of it.
To Minnesota’s next fallen peace officer-to-be, whoever you are, please accept my wishes for you. And godspeed.