By Jay Bender
I spent a few minutes on Monday morning searching for something in my locker.
It’s one of those small items that seems perpetually lost. It’s nothing special, really. Just a black elastic band with a thin blue line through the middle. It would be insignificant if its symbolism did not carry so much weight.
History is unclear as to when police officers began to cover their badges with a black band when we lose a fellow officer. Some believe it was a carryover from a time when people wore a black armband to signify they were in mourning. Other sources state it is based in heraldry, when a coat-of-arms would be draped in black to signify a family death. Regardless of the roots, we know what it means today: A police officer has died in the line of duty. I was once asked why my badge number was covered, and the person literally asked me what I was hiding. I patiently explained that we had lost a fellow police officer. I don’t remember who we had lost at that time, but I remember the encounter.
At Solon, the decision to cover our badges is made at the command staff level. The decision is made largely based on geography. If we covered our badges for every officer killed in the line of duty, everywhere in the United States, we would be in a perpetual state of mourning, and our badges would never be uncovered.
On October 21, 2017, Girard Police Officer Justin Leo was murdered while responding to a domestic disturbance. Leo’s partner returned fire, killing the suspect. As a profession, we will mourn him. We will send our volunteer honor guard to attend his funeral, and we will try to learn something, anything, from this tragedy.
By tradition, we will cover our badges until Officer Leo is laid to rest. And may that rest be peaceful.