Orange County Sheriff’s officers spent time connecting with Orangefield Elementary School students during a recent visit to the school.

Jennifer Clarke  – For The Record

“Back the Blue,” is a saying that many citizens use regularly. It is seen on stickers on cars and trucks driving down many roads and highways, but the personal connections to the men and women who wear that badge is often missing.

There is no secret about the dangers that officers face. But as society is increasingly exposed through television and the media to death and violence, the American Psychological Association suggests that not only do people behave more aggressively, they lack real understanding and anxiety that should come with exposure to violence and death. So it may not be shocking that many people no longer seem moved at the loss of life in general in society.

Many officers say they have been feeling the pressure recently. There has been a real disconnect between citizens and those in uniform, and many are looking to make sure that changes.

Orangefield ISD participated in an event to introduce the student body to officers in uniform and allow them an opportunity to ask questions of officers and learn a little bit about what these men and women do each day. Mrs. Michelle Boudreaux, an educator at the elementary is the wife of Officer Shaun Boudreaux and has several students interested in becoming officers themselves. She decided this would be a great opportunity for her students to meet a “real life hero.”

Mrs. Boudreaux asked her husband, Officer Boudreaux, if he would be able to speak with the fourth-grade students “about his jobs and responsibilities,” she also considered “what their kind words could do for him and his fellow co-workers as they head out each day.”

The elementary music teacher, Mrs. BrittanyPerry, also asked her husband, Officer Perry to come and speak with some of the other grade levels.

The children asked many questions. They wanted to know how long the officers had been in their jobs, what their shifts were like, and how long they worked. And of course, some of the children asked: “How many car chases have you been in?” Mrs. Boudreaux noted that several of the students asked about Officer Boudreaux’s K-9 police dog, Nicky. They wanted to know “where he stayed after they were done with their shift, if Nicky rode with my husband, how long he had Nicky, and also what kind of dog he was.”

Mrs. Boudreaux, along with fellow teacher, Mrs. Perry, educated the students about the sacrifices officers make every single day protecting their community. The concept behind the project “Silent No More” was explained to the students. The children decorated badges and presented them to the officers.

“Their badges would be sent to local law enforcement stations and would be displayed on the walls for the police officers to read as they were leaving the station to load up their patrol cars and start their shifts,” says Michelle Boudreaux.

This was a great opportunity for the youth in the community to recognize the work these men and women do. The children were reminded that officers provide a service their to community and protect them in times of need, she said.

“It was good to have an opportunity to get involved with the youth and show them that we aren’t bad guys. We are here to help. We won’t haul you off to jail because you don’t mind your parents. We are here to work to make this a safe place,” Officer Boudreaux said.

There has been a social divide given the climate of the nation and the increasing violence. Mrs. Boudreaux introduced her students  to “what was going on in today’s headlines and how this has impacted law enforcement officers around the United States.” A foundation called the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has been tracking and collecting data on the loss of officers since 1791 and continues to keep a national database. The information is vitally important for the men and women who continue to face a dangerous element and attempt to preserve the safety of their communities every day.

Officers Boudreaux and Perry had an opportunity to shed a little light into the stresses of working in law enforcement.

“It is important for students to know and understand since several of them are aspiring to be law enforcement officers themselves,” says Michelle Boudreaux.

The officers noted that the job requires them to always be on guard even during routine procedures such as traffic stops. Something as simple as telling a driver to turn their headlights on at night can be unpredictable. Every time an officer leaves the house, “it is a somber feeling,” says Mrs. Boudreaux. The officers discussed how they are receiving tons of support from the community, “while they are still met with hostility from others.” But it is events like this, that will continue to bring officers and community together to build understanding and trust for a better working relationship.

Officers are on the front lines fighting against the violence that plagues the nation, but this is nothing new. Prior to 1854, officer deaths remained at less than ten per year, many years suffering the loss of one officer. Notably in 1920, with the ratification of the 18th Amendment and Prohibition, officer deaths jumped to 196. Since that time, officer deaths continued to grow reaching over 300 in 1930.

It wasn’t until 1943, around the Second World War, that officer deaths began to drop and sustained a loss of roughly 100 to 200 officers per year well into the late 1990s. In 2014, 117 officers were lost in the line of duty. As of September 8, 2015, 85 officers have been lost in the line of duty compared to 77 as of September, 2014. This is an increase of 10 percent. Notably, traffic related deaths have increased 36 percent while gun related deaths have decreased 24 percent.

For the third year in a row, the leading cause of death for officers were traffic-related incidents. In 1975, 140 officers were lost in traffic accidents, 107 in 2005, and so far 64 have been lost in 2015. More officers have been killed in Texas, seven total, than in any other state in the first half of 2015. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia did not lose an officer during this time. There have been 18 firearm related fatalities for officers so far in 2015, and of those, four were feloniously shot and killed during a traffic stop or pursuit, the most of any fatal shootings so far this year. Traffic fatalities were the leading cause of officer fatalities in 2015, accounting for 30 deaths.

Texas ranks one of the highest in officer related deaths, and has lost 10 officer as of September, 2015. Texas has lost a total of 1,695 officers throughout recorded time and is followed closely by California at 1,564. The state with the lowest recorded officer deaths throughout history is Vermont at 22 officers.

The Officer Down Memorial Page notes that a total of 80 men and three women officers have been killed so far in 2015, and the majority of the deaths occurred in May of this year, with 16 fatalities.

The controversy surrounding officers and citizens has caused a great divide in many communities around the nation, and citizens and officers are now working hard to bridge that gap, according to the site. Officers who care about their communities and the people within them are reaching out and showing what it means to be an officer with honor. They are sharing what their duties are, informing the public about their rights, and allowing for a dialogue to open up so that citizens can learn to trust them.

Likewise, citizens who want respect and honor to grow for their police departments are working hard to spread information about their local law enforcement and how they operate. Many departments are beginning to allow for more transparency, working with body cameras. Citizens have been forming groups and social media campaigns to show support for officers around the nation. The more that officers, departments, and the public work together to build a relationship of trust, the stronger these communities become.

“I think this was an amazing opportunity for our young students to learn about the sacrifices it takes to become a police officer,” says Michelle Boudreaux, “My hopes in asking local law enforcement officers to our school and to talk to our students, is that they will see these officers as human beings.” Mrs. Boudreaux points out that both Officer Boudreaux and Officer Perry are fathers, brothers and sons. And she hopes that in holding an event like this, the students “learn to have a healthy respect for these officers and not fear them.”

Clearly, suiting up in the uniform comes with risk, and one that should remain recognized by the communities these officers serve, Mrs. Boudreaux thinks. Officers Boudreaux and Perry committed themselves to becoming part of their community and reminding the people in it that they are here to serve and protect them. Boudreaux and Perry, and officers like them, are perhaps a reminder of what honoring the uniform means. They connect to the people they are working to protect while risking themselves to do it. It is a significant sacrifice, and one that requires true courage, humility, and concern. And this event, allowed for many citizens, grown and growing, to learn how to really “Back the Blue.”

“You know, most of the time, we are dealing with people when they aren’t at their best. We are dealing with people when they are committing a crime or in the middle of something where they are in need of help. There are a lot of high stress situations. And when you come home, especially from a particularly bad day, and social media or the news is full of talk about us being the bad guys, it can just be hard to deal with. Sometimes, it is really nice to hear someone, or a group of people, that recognize we are doing something good. That we are doing a real service. Something good,” Officer Boudreaux said.