In 2016, while serving as acting governor because the governor was out of state, I got a call informing me that five police officers in Dallas had been ambushed and murdered by a lone gunman. I immediately flew to Dallas to be at the hospital where the officers had been taken and to be briefed on this unimaginable crime. I watched as the grief-stricken families walked with gurneys down silent halls lined by medical staff and police, in shock of what had happened that night.
The next morning, I began visiting and praying with the families of the fallen officers and attending church and memorial services for them on behalf of all Texans.
I vividly recall visiting the home of one of the slain officers the morning after the shooting. The devastation of that family upon the loss of their father and husband was indescribable. Their lives were turned upside down. For every officer killed in the line of duty, whether a rookie or near retirement, there are survivors left behind who, while grappling with deep grief, still have bills and mortgages to pay, children to put through school, often parents to care for, and a spouse that now must assume all these responsibilities.
I did not know then how many more times in the coming years I would make similar visits. The immense pain, of course, was always there, but the strength and courage displayed by the families was inspiring. They stood on the rock of their faith in God and were buoyed by the brotherhood of police who stood with them.
Those in law enforcement are very special people. They go to work every day willing, if necessary, to put their lives on the line for total strangers. The families that worry, “Will they come home after their shift is done?” are also very special people.
The job becomes more dangerous each day. Since 2015, over 50 Texas officers have been killed in the line of duty, the vast majority by gunfire. In most cases, the officers, deputies, constables and troopers never got a chance to defend themselves. They were ambushed during a traffic stop or gunned down responding to a domestic disturbance call.
To restore law and order in our nation and state, the first step is to restore respect for members of law enforcement. If there are bad actors, they must be addressed, but bad actors in law enforcement are very rare. The diverse group of 80,000 men and women who serve in Texas law enforcement represent the best of the Lone Star State. They number just 80,000 to protect 29 million Texans. That is a thin blue line, indeed.
When you see a member of law enforcement, let him or her know you appreciate the officer’s service. A few kind words and a smile will go a long way in this pressure-packed job. And when you sit around your Thanksgiving table this year, add our brave Texas law enforcement officers to the things you are thankful for. My prayer is that we restore our state, and nation, to one where a funeral for a fallen officer is once again a rarity. There have been too many funerals and too many families left behind.
Dan Patrick is lieutenant governor of Texas. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.