Johnson Procession

Bystanders watch as police vehicles escort the body of Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson up Yale Avenue from Saint Francis Hospital to Interstate 44 on Wednesday evening. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World

As U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma and chief of police for the city of Tulsa, we witness daily the commitment of police officers to our community. The dedicated men and women who take an oath to serve and protect do so willingly and with their life if need be. Policing is a noble and necessary profession. It is a career of purpose and mission-oriented service.

Earlier this month, Oklahomans were reminded of the sacrifice that comes along with the calling to work in law enforcement when two Tulsa police officers were shot during a traffic stop.

Tragically, Sgt. Craig Johnson, a 15-year veteran of the Tulsa Police Department, died as a result of the encounter. He is one of 27 officers across our nation to succumb to gunshot wounds this year. Our hearts are with his wife and two young boys, as well as with the more than 1,000 men and women serving in sworn, dispatch and civilian positions in the Tulsa Police Department. We honor his legacy and salute his service.

Also wounded in the traffic stop shooting was Officer Aurash Zarkeshan, a recent police academy graduate who had been on patrol for just six weeks. He is a young man known for his servant’s heart and desire to make a difference. We continue to support and pray for Officer Zarkeshan and his family.

Our nation’s officers understand that traffic stops are not just routine. In fact, they’re often unpredictable and can quickly turn deadly. Peril is, indeed, a constant component of the many responsibilities that officers undertake to ensure the safety of our families, our neighborhoods and our workplaces.

These brave men and women are the Thin Blue Line, standing in the divide between order and chaos. Make no mistake, our nation owes a debt of gratitude to these guardians of justice. They remind us that liberty, the cornerstone of our nation, is upheld by the steadfast acts of service carried out by police officers on our streets and in our neighborhoods.

Sadly, such selflessness comes at a cost.

Since 1786, more than 22,200 law enforcement officers, including 523 Oklahomans, have made the ultimate sacrifice. In 2019 alone, 89 American law enforcement officers died in the line of duty.

The backgrounds and stories of these officers are as diverse as our nation itself, but all share a common trait: They all willingly served to promote justice and peace on our streets. Their sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. We honor the watch of those who departed while giving so much of themselves to others. We mourn with the families who will not see their loved one walk through the door at the end of a shift.

The heartfelt gratitude extended to our nation’s fallen officers must be carried forward to those still walking the beat — those watching over us and standing in the gap. They are, as President Ronald Reagan called them, our first line of defense against the forces of lawlessness.

These brave men and women include Tulsa Police Sgt. Mike Parsons who, though shot during a traffic stop in 2018, expertly commanded the response until the suspect was arrested. They include Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Jeff Laue, who was shot during a standoff in Ottawa County in March. They include professionals like Osage County Deputy Casey Witt, who was deliberately run over when approaching a suspect after a pursuit in May of this year. And they include Officer Zarkeshan, who now lies wounded in a hospital bed, fighting to recover fully and surrounded by family who love him.

We could go on and on naming Tulsa Police Officers such as Kelli Braitsch, Lt. Darren Bristow, Sgt. Gene Watkins, Officer Matt Osborn, Lt. Virgil Littrell and so many other Tulsa officers who have stared evil in the face, been injured and responded heroically.

We recognize not only officers’ valiant actions, but also their dedicated work to build bridges of trust within their communities. This work is carried out by officers like Tulsa Police Officer Jesse Guardiola, who was recently recognized by Attorney General William Barr for his work in community policing, successfully building trust and partnerships between the Tulsa Police Department and Tulsa’s Hispanic community.

We are in the midst of an important national discussion about policing in America. It is a discussion we must have if we are to forge ahead as a united country. It is a conversation that may be uncomfortable at times as we confront historical wrongs and engage in an honest dialogue about a complex issue. But even during that discussion, we must recognize that a police officer’s work is tough, gritty, honorable — and necessary. To wear the badge is a higher calling that requires a principled set of ethics and standards and a responsibility to ensure that the “reservoir of trust” shared with the public never runs dry.

This week and every week, we ask Oklahomans to join us in supporting our nation’s federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement officers. Their devotion and sacrifice for our peace and security are all too invaluable to ignore. Our guardians of justice cannot and should not be taken for granted.

U.S. Attorney Trent Shores is U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma. Wendell Franklin is Tulsa police chief.

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