COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A mere two weeks into the new year and seven law enforcement officers have been killed nationwide, up 30 percent compared to the same time period last year.
Six officers were killed in the line of duty, while one was killed preparing to go to work.
In South Carolina, Wednesday marks one year since York County Deputy Michael Doty was killed and three other officers were shot.
Kassy Alia’s husband Greg served as a Forest Acres police officer until 2015, when he was shot and killed while responding to a call of a suspicious person at Richland Mall. Since then, Alia has founded Serve and Connect, a non-profit aimed at building trust and understanding between law and enforcement and the community.
“When my dog started barking and that knock came on the door that terrible day, you just knew,” she said. “It’s an unreal sense of incredible heartbreak.”
Alia said can empathize with what families and friends of the seven fallen officers are going through, not to mention the countless others wounded in the line of duty.
“When I meet another widow, I often say, this is the worst club to be a part of, but you’re part of it and I’m always going to be here for you,” she said.
Since founding Serve and Connect, Alia has created numerous partnerships in the community, ranging from a tragedy response team to giving Christmas candy to officers to hand out to children in their communities.
“By building that foundation for empathy and understanding we can really start to promote some healing and see at the end of the day we’re all just people,” she said. “What we all want is so much more the same than it is different.”
The Columbia Police Department welcomed a host of new officers in 2018, including Constance Lake. After dreaming of a career in law enforcement her entire childhood, she’s happy to be on the streets creating relationships with those she protects.
“I’m okay with knowing that I could possibly go out there and get killed,” Lake said. “ But for me, it’s worth it. The commitment I have to the community is worth it.”
The South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy graduates around 55 students every few weeks. Katelyn Jasak is in her ninth week of a twelve-week training course and agrees with Lake’s sentiments.
“It’s unfortunate and it’s sad and it can be scary not just for us but for our families but it’s worth it,” Jasak said. “Being there for good people and making sure that bad people go where they need to go.”
Nationwide, recruitment and retention are down amongst law enforcement departments. Factors like pay, a shrinking pool of qualified candidates and physical ability play a role, but for many, the risks associated with the job outweigh the benefits.
“People who have had generations of police families who don’t want their kids to go into law enforcement because of what’s happening right now,” Alia said. “So just appreciating whether you love or don’t love the police, understanding that what happens to them directly impacts our community’s safety.”
According to the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund, nearly 150 state and local officers were killed in 2018, a 12 percent increase from 2017.