City Government

Questions Arise From Tragic Copper Deaths

Recent deaths of sheriff’s deputies in Adams and Lincoln counties raise some interesting issues among coppers and civilians alike.
In both instances, the officers died as a result of traffic accidents and it appears in both cases other drivers were NOT at fault. Neither copper was wearing a seat belt. The Lincoln County deputy was ejected from his vehicle which flipped apparently at high speed on a curve. The Adams County deputy crashed head-on into another vehicle when his patrol unit drifted across the center of a two lane highway resulting in the death of both the deputy and an Air Force officer.

Idaho’s mandatory seat belt law makes an exception for coppers. We look for that to get changed in the next legislative session and would support mandatory use of the safety restraint–many departments already require seat belt use as department policy.

Nationwide the vast majority of police deaths are caused by traffic accidents–not through gunfights or other criminal action. The position of many insider coppers is: “they wear the badge and choose to risk their lives for the public, so therefore we honor their service in the event of death.”

That’s a noble gesture, but it seems there isn’t a well defined policy of when and where the various honor guards, bagpipers, motorcycle patrols, and police units attend funerals of their “fallen comrades.” At present, Boise PD sends two honor guard members and two motorcycles to these “show funerals” which often have hundreds of police cars in the procession. They can also be hundreds of miles away.

Indeed, it is appropriate for anyone to attend the funeral of someone they know and respect as they are sent to their final resting place. The tenuous link of being in the same occupation seems a bit weak.

For example we wouldn’t expect a delegation of groundskeepers from a municipal golf course in Boise attending the funeral of a groundskeeper in Pocatello who died when he crashed a pick-up or tractor while on duty.

While many are concerned with the expense to the jurisdictions sending officers to copper funerals, it should be noted there are multiple messages being sent as well. For the survivors it is comforting to have their loved ones honored by “brother officers.” For some citizens, it sets coppers apart from pilots, linemen, construction workers, timber workers, and farmers who also risk their lives daily and die more frequently. If coppers go to funerals of other coppers just because they are coppers, it sends a message to many citizens that coppers are more important than other citizens.

Perhaps the basic question is: “Would you attend the funeral if the person was not a copper?”


Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Guardian,
    The latest official law enforcement line of duty death statistics from 2007 provided by the FBI:
    Officers dying of felonious causes(shootings, stabbings, etc.): 57
    Officers dying from automobile or motorcycle accidents: 55. Of the felonious deaths, 55 were from hostile gunfire. That would suggest that automobile accidents do not account for the vast majority of officer deaths.

    GEOGG–Looks like it is a matter of which source and which year. The coppers themselves show more than half of current deaths are either crashes or struck by a vehicle.

  2. Great article, I’m glad somebody said it. The recent police deaths are without a doubt a tragedy and everybody’s prayers go out to the families but a funeral precession of over 300 publicly owned vehicles may be a bit over the top (and rather expensive). I know these officers are off-duty but the vehicles and gas used to operate the vehicles are still publicly owned. The message sent is clear, most police forces are more closely tied to their own than they are the exact people they’re supposed to be serving.

  3. The question in my mind is: Why weren’t these guys wearing seat belts?
    The law says they don’t have to — it doesn’t say they can’t.
    They’re the ones telling the rest of us we should wear the belts. Hypocritical?

    I suspect the exception for them was intended for situations where they have to jump into the car and get going instantly. But if memory serves, neither of these two was on an emergency call.

    If these two tragedies pound the need for wearing safety belts into the heads of other coppers, maybe their deaths weren’t totally in vain.

  4. Alicia Ritter
    Jul 19, 2009, 7:58 pm

    I need to disagree with anyone who seriously interprets Idaho’s current seat belt law as “mandatory.” Idaho has what they refer to as a secondary enforcement law, which means that while it may be on the books, a cop can’t pull you over solely for violation of not wearing a belt, some other offense must warrant cause. So, really there is no law unless you run a stop light or are weaving so bad that multiple drivers call 9-11 to report you. Idaho, by the way, has lost millions of dollars in federal incentive funds over the last few years by not having a “primary enforcement law” on the books (meaning a cop can pull you over solely for being unbelted). People are dying or getting seriously injured in the meanwhile.

    Representative JoAnn Wood won’t give this proposed law a hearing, and hasn’t for many years. She chairs the house transportation committee. Some folks, fairly so, argue that it’s their right to choose not to belt themselves up, nanny government and all. My beef is with one woman who controls the ability for a primary enforcement law to simply get a hearing. Seems to me that the first amendment also dictates that reasonable folks ought to be able to discuss such issues in reasonable fashion. No, she won’t hear of it.

    I have lost track of where things stand, yet I know that belt advocates have tried to get the legislature to consider increasing the fines for secondary offense violation. No teeth in the thing now. No can do.

    What is Ms. Wood afraid of? Seems to me good policy comes from healthy conversation and debate among those affected — the people. Politics is too much a part of this equation to suit me.

    Let Ms.Wood know where you stand.

  5. Dave-
    Using your source 1999-2008
    Auto, bicycle, boating, motorcycle accidents: 575
    Beaten, bomb related, shot, stabbed, strangled: 592, with 561 being from gunshot wounds. The death rates of those other jobs (pilots, lineman, timberworkers, etc…) are due to accidents. Using whatever statistical data you want, a large amount of police officer deaths are criminal acts. So maybe its not the most dangerous job, but it is definitely a job where you die defending others.

    I understand that there should always be fiscal responsibilty, whenever public assets are being used, I think this article would have been great if you left it at that. But would you question the funeral of a teacher where 300 teachers show up to celebrate their service, or of a lawmaker when other lawmakers show up to celebrate their service? Or what about firefighters, they have big funerals with bagpipes and honor guards.
    You can’t tell me that everyone who shows up to any large funeral (or small one for that matter) knew the deceased. Many of the officers in attendance from other parts of the state may have known him, and respected him or had a chance to meet him at some point in their career.
    Most police officers don’t feel like they are better than anyone else. So why are we suspicious of a group of people who take pride in their profession and wish to honor those who also choose to serve their communities? Just because this death was accidental doesn’t leave any less of a hole in the community that he served. I’m also fairly certain that the family of the deputy that died did not think that this was a “show funeral”.

  6. I have to agree with Geoff on this one. Lets face it, none of us are getting out this place alive. A police officer died, yes he should be wearing his seat belt. But as the old saying goes Sh** Happens. But calling them “coppers” and talking about “show funerals” is a bit much. Rest in Peace.

    Hopefully more people learn to wear their seatbelt including police officers. But no Alicia there is no need for lawmakers to come up with more excuses to pull over people. Save me from murderers, rapists, and theives but don’t save me from myself.

  7. These sendoffs by the law enforcemnt brotherhood is a long standing tradition. Why would we second guess their tradition any more than we critisize their choice of uniform. They are there to support the family as well as the community of the fallen brother.
    Leave this alone and let us not second guess it’s importance to the law enforcemment community.

  8. I don’t post much here but the wife and I happened to drive past the scene of the Adams County incident on Saturday and a number of thoughts crossed my mind.

    There is a conspicuous memorial at the site for the deputy — big badge replica, flowers, etc. While we didn’t stop, we saw nothing evident to the casual passerby memorializing the military family affected by this tragedy.

    I’m trying to reserve judgement on the deputy, although it is obvious his car was in the wrong lane at the time of the crash. His lack of seatbelt use is disturbing. Even more troubling would be if his cell phone records were to show he was talking or texting at the time. Have these records been checked?

    Large, multi-jurisdictional displays for fallen officers serve – intentionally or otherwise – as evidence that there exists, to one degree or another, an “us and them” mentality among law enforcement officers.

    While one feels sympathy and sadness for the families and friends of all those involved in these incidents, one agrees with the Guardian that such ostentatious displays may send mixed messages in cases where an officer’s questionable judgement could have contributed to his or her demise.

  9. I can see where the show of solidarity for the police officers that die in the line of duty and the showing of a large contingent of brother/sister law enforcement on their off duty time with government owned vehicles (as pointed out, often in the hundreds). It amazes me though that when military members are killed in the line of duty, you do not see a line of tanks, humvees, helicopters and jets in the motorcade. Even at Arlington National Cemetery the most elaborate includes a caisson and horses. Is the service member’s body flown home from where they died at government expense? Yes, but once in the US it is flown in the cargo hold of a commercial aircraft.
    The disparity that seems to be of all the money spent on the fallen police, especially when the government budgets are out of control, government employees are being laid off, and children are going hungry seems to me the place that all of these expenses (gas, hotel rooms, vehicle wear and tear) should be focused on.

  10. “But no Alicia there is no need for lawmakers to come up with more excuses to pull over people.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

  11. Sad deal all the way around. I haven’t seen anything in the local media–maybe I missed it–about the cause of the Adams County accident. I understand the off-duty officer was texting. If that’s the case it needs to be highlighted, certainly not to embarass his family, but show just how dangerous the practice is.

    EDITOR NOTE–Don’t know if a cause has been released, but when known, it needs to be made public to calm the rumor mill.

  12. Deadly accidents are more often than not related to a series of things going wrong and compounding to the point of tragedy.

    In this particular case I wonder what role fatige on the part of the Deptuy played. Public safety entites have embraced the 12 hour work day because they can do the same job with fewer people. A 12 hour shift is brutal even when you are well rested and alert. All you can do is eat, sleep and work. The first day you are off you spend trying to get your body back on track.

    If the Deputy in this fatal crash started his shift tired, I can only try to imagine how this would have played a role in the tragic accident.

    The 12 hour work shift may be a plus for employers but it is deadly for people operating machinery and driving vehicles. It may be time to rethink the 12 hour work day for workers from health care to those driving vehicles and operating potentially dangerous equipment.

    You can surmise that I am against the 12 hour workday. Especially for healthcare and public safety people who have to be alert and ready for all circumstances.

  13. Alicia,
    I believe the primary reason for not having a real seat belt law in Idaho is because our predominantly rural legislature doesn’t want one. It is perfectly legal to load the back of a pickup with unbelted people and fly down any highway or interstate if all the belts are being used in the vehicle. If a real belt law were passed, farmers would have to buy vans to move the workers around. Do you really want the price of McDonald’s fries to go up in price?

  14. Show funeral? “VAST” majority? It seems you certainly have a grudge against police officers, and jump at the chance to dig at them. Obviously the “VAST” majority are not killed in car accidents. Nor are the “VAST” majority killed in gunfights. Somewhere around 50/50. Besides…this is the Boise Guardian right? Both of these occurred far away from Boise.

    Coppers (as you like to say) are not more important than other citizens. They did, however, take an oath to protect the citizens in the communities they work. Should they probably have been wearing seatbelts? Yes, and they paid dearly. Focus on that fact, and not the funeral, or the other officers and community members who came to pay their respects.

    If you want accurate data on law enforcement deaths go to the Officer Down Memorial Page ( The current statistics show that Idaho has lost 57 officers. 33 died from gunfire. ONLY 6 died in traffic collisions.

  15. Guardian – what a disappointment to read your article about “Coppers” and their attendance to funerals. of fallen comrades. Given the sacrifices that these men and women make is really a slap in their face. Further, you discuss people in other professions, such as your example of a caretaker, who are allegedly treated with disparity. Well why aren’t you writing about them? Why has the Guardian failed to give them ample print time?

  16. Guy Bourgeau
    Jul 21, 2009, 11:04 pm

    I was deeply saddened and disappointed to read this posting. I think the focus needs to remain on the families affected by these tragedies and on the two officers killed while serving their communities rather than to question the necessity or “link” as a reason why officers choose to attend a fellow officer’s funeral. No one is forced to attend these funerals, it is a choice we make to show respect for someone in our profession that died serving. Yes, this is something steeped in tradition, we honor a fellow officer in a way we feel is appropriate and as to the costs, some things are worth it. It is not an example of “us vs. them” as someone earlier mentioned. Our profession has a distinct sense of camaraderie that is not always shared by other professions, a sense that is instilled in large by similar experiences and a sense of duty and commitment. So if we choose to honor a comrade by putting on a “show” as one post mentioned so callously, I fail to see the problem with that. As for your groundskeeper analogy, it is the choice of those professionals whether they want to do the same; I would support it if they did. Just because they have not done the same does not mean we should not. So rather than focus on whether the officer was “texting” or mentioning that someone needs to check his cell phone bill, perhaps we should try to remember that these people had families, wives and children left behind. And that the officers died serving their communities. I really hope that people are able to recognize that fact. I have and will continue to support this tradition and as I mentioned earlier, some things go beyond the price tag and you’ll never be able to convince me otherwise.

    Guy Bourgeau
    Vice President Local 486
    International Brotherhood of Police Officers
    Boise, Idaho

  17. Given the number of man hours spent behind the wheel police officers are bound to be involved in traffic accidents. Comparing the number of traffic deaths to gunfire or criminal act deaths is an meaningless exercise. How does the rate of accidents by officers compare to that of the general public?

    I fail to see how an officer killed in the line of duty in a traffic accident is not worthy of being honored. They are honored for their service to the public, not for the means of their death.

  18. Larry Fortenski
    Jul 22, 2009, 3:23 am

    Guy Bourgeau states that it doesn’t matter if the deputy was talking on his cell phone or texting at the time of the accident. Let’s just leave it as the tragedy it is without review. But that is a faulty conclusion. The public has an unequivocal right to safe roads. Look at the policies departments have adopted that spell out when a pursuit is allowed and when it is not. They were developed after innocent people were killed during high-speed chases. If texting is deemed dangerous on the job, perhaps a policy should be developed. It could be as simple as pulling to the side of the road when texting.

  19. sam the sham
    Jul 22, 2009, 7:18 am

    Why do I need to wear a seat belt 100% of the time – it’s my “risky” behavior… like kayaking on class 3 water or sky diving. Please allow me to risk my own life as I choose. While I do choose to wear a seat belt 99% of the time, I do not wish for a law to say that I must wear it all of the time. I do not want more laws put upon me – nor you and I really don’t like the behavior of most of you!!! But I do respect our freedom to be brain dead jerks! If we all drove a little be slower, paid a little bit more attention and showed a little bit more respect then maybe we could show that we do not need to be protected from ourselves.

  20. Tone it Down - Coppers
    Jul 22, 2009, 7:32 am

    Surest sign of fascism is when the boys with guns start demanding extra respect because they do jobs that are extra important.

    Yes, police forces are important. They catch the crooks. So are accountants. They are the ones who catch the police crooks.

    Every class of employment, race, creed, and color are equally important. We are all in this mess together.

    I can see a show funeral if the officer does something beyond the call of duty. Same thing with a plumber.

    However, a show funeral for a texter? Sure it is sad for the friends and family. However, there instances in which the corp should draw less attention.

  21. I think the Guardian was right on–although some of his comparisons may have been unfortunate. Taxpayers should not foot any part of the bill for sending officers to these funerals because of camaraderie or tradition–especially when the officer may have been at fault in the deaths of others.

  22. A question for the cop supporters.
    Jul 22, 2009, 10:04 am

    As I understand it, using city, county, state cars, and gas, on the officer’s time off, constitutes an in-kind source of income to the participating officers.

    How many of these officers of the law report this income on their income taxes?

  23. A 20 yr old woman is dead because traffic was stopped on I-84 to arrest a wanted man… I sure hope there was not a better place to stop that truck.

    The other day a patrol car was driving very aggressively without flashing lights, cut me off and nearly hit me at an intersection… he was in a hurry to get to the Jacksons where nothing at all was going on.

    Pressure on Police to put and keep public safety first is very important; a long history shows that such pressure has always been needed. Thanks for writing this article.

  24. George Bush II did not want anyone to see the coffins of Iraq/AF-Pak wars as they were delivered by refrigerated cargo planes home to the USA. Did these young military men, fighting for our freedom, not deserve the same respect fallen Idaho police officers expect? Was George Bush saving tax payers money or accommodating the wishes of surviving family? The reason I as I understand it, was for the privacy of the grieving families. Might the grieving families of policemen killed in the line of duty, also desire the same respect for privacy afforded our military personnel killed in service to our country? Why don’t our fallen servicemen get the same motorcades, bagpipers, and funerals afforded our fallen policemen?

  25. The copper’s show of strength at funerals goes back to the 1930’s when the show of strength was in response to the elaborate funerals of organized crime members during prohibition, when both sides often had a loss of life in confrontations, and has little relevance today.

    The whole idea of “the thin blue line” came from the same era of prohibition when there was no income tax and prohibition ended the tax revenue from alcohol, thinning the ranks of law enforcement whilst lining the pockets of crooks that found it easy to recruit in the hard times of The Great Depression.

  26. Tone it down, I don’t know about your accountant, but I can wager that my accountant ain’t about to try and save my ass if I am threatened by some criminal activity. There goes your argument that coppers aren’t any different than any other profession.
    We expect our law enforcement officers to be judge, jury, sadly executioner, psychologist, lawyer,social worker,babysitter,and dutch uncle all in the space of seconds! They don’t have the luxury of “do-overs”. To say they are no different than other professions is just plain silly! (thanks to Joe Friday) They will never see Europe except in pictures. They struggle to put their kids through school. They almost have to have a wife that is employed as well, just to make ends meet. They look for overtime, not because they want to, but rather because they have to because we don’t pay them enough! They give up weekends,kid’s birthdays, anniversaries, Easter, Thanksgivings and Christmas!
    No different than other professions? Not hardly!

  27. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, and repeat what Guy Bourgeau or I have already said.

    I am wondering where “Tone it Down Coppers” and “Opie” found the information about one of the officers text messaging? This is the first place I saw that, and was wondering if it has any factual basis? Not saying it did or didn’t occur, just wondering where that information originated.

  28. YO, Cyclops. Take a Chill Pill Buddy!
    Jul 23, 2009, 6:21 am

    Change the name and your description of what makes a cop special would fit every other profession. “They give up weekends,kid’s birthdays, anniversaries, Easter, Thanksgivings and Christmas!”, sounds like the checker at Winco, putting in the extra time so you can have a twinkie.

  29. You remind me of my first wife! In fact, now that I think about it, you remind me of everyone’s first wife! You don’t want to listen, read, or consider you may be wrong. Your analogy is juvenile at best! I wish you well!

  30. A cyclops that is blind in one eye, cannot see!
    Jul 23, 2009, 4:35 pm

    Cy, buddy, take some of your own advice. There is a reason they all left you.

  31. Yo Cy,
    Take a taser in the butt for us and prove it doesn’t really hurt.

  32. It has always struck me that law enforcement personnel turn out en mass to honor their fallen comrades……..and when a police officer uses deadly force and kills a citizen, who conducts objective unbiased independent investigations? Comrades from another agency.

  33. Copper murdered innocent driver
    Aug 20, 2009, 4:03 pm

    The copper was in the wrong lane. He killed an innocent driver. He gets a “hero’s” funeral. Does something seem out of place? We are honoring somebody who killed?

  34. In regards to all the comments posted so far let me give you the perspective from a police officers point of view. I have served my country as a member of the Armed Forces and as a peace officer. On the date of this horrible crash I was attending a management course with 21 other peace officers. A classmate and coworker of mine sadly is a cousin to the deceased peace officer in question who some of you seem quick to bash. Law Enforcement is a very small community and we all have to depend upon each other for support. The only other brotherhoods which have as close a relationship are firefighters and military families. While our entire class chose to go to our fallen brothers funeral on our time off, we also decided as a class to show our support for our armed forces brother as well. To his family, our small group took up a collection and donated what we could to help them as well. This state tragically lost two very decent men of honor in this accident and all some of you can do is tarnish one mans memory. The comment that a police officer murdered an innocent driver disgusts me. Murder implies forethought and intent. If you want to start classifying accidents as such start prosecuting drunk drivers who crash and kill as murderers. They intended to drink and they intended to drive didn’t they? How about attempted murder for any DUI driver because their actions could result in a crash? Why he was not wearing his seat belt in the crash? Sadly we will never know. People die daily in tragic crashes because they were not wearing seat belts. This does not make them bad people……..unless you are a cop of course. We are held to a higher standard of conduct than any other. We are not allowed to be human and are guilty for the actions of all other cops…..right? At least thats the way its supposed to work if I am reading you right.

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