Hi, my name is Katie Gierach. I joined the Wauwatosa Police Department in 2004 when I was 21 years old, because I wanted a career that would challenge me every day, allow me opportunities to bring justice for those who were wronged by others, and be a calming support for those going through difficult situations. One thing I distinctly remember being surprised by as a brand new officer was the wide variety of issues that people call the police for. Here I thought I’d be spending my days taking burglary reports, arresting shoplifters, catching robbers, getting guns and drugs off the streets, and issuing the occasional speeding ticket. Well, I was, but in addition to all of that, I was refereeing arguments between boyfriends and girlfriends, telling a resident to keep his cat out of his neighbor’s yard, and even taking a report from a man wearing a stock pot on his head who wanted me to tell his neighbors in his apartment building to stop tasering him through his foil-lined walls.
In 2007, with 3 years on, I hit the “stress wall” that most cops hit at around that time, feeling frustrated with the internal workings of a police department. That year, I made my first trip to Washington, D.C. for Police Week. The brotherhood that I encountered while honoring our fallen heroes reminded me of why we all do this job, and that the Thin Blue Line is something that we all defend, together. The experience restored pride in my job, and inspired a personal mission to always honor and remember those law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty. Since that trip, I have made it a priority to attend every police funeral I can. Watching survivors and officers line up behind a flag-draped casket is heartbreaking, and is a stark reminder that defending the Thin Blue Line between order and chaos often comes at a high price.
On December 24, 2012, our police department lost one of our own officers, Officer Jennifer Sebena. She was ambushed on duty – shot in the head multiple times. Hearing the news that Jen was dead, and realizing that I had been on a squad meet with her only 30 minutes before the ambush, was a punch to my gut. Any one of us could have been killed. My fellow Wauwatosa officers and I found ourselves standing in formation behind Jen’s flag-draped casket, tears in our eyes, much like the officers at the other funerals I had attended. The following May, I made the trip to Washington, D.C. again, this time to dedicate the name of my co-worker, my sister in blue, on the wall of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. While the sadness of mourning Jen was heavy, even more powerful was the support from fellow law enforcement officers and survivors. Sharing stories of others’ grief journeys gave me the belief that we, too, would move through our loss, and find a new normal once again.
In 2014, I participated in the Police Unity Tour, a 250+ mile bicycle ride to the Law Enforcement Memorial with hundreds of fellow officers and survivors. The physical challenge of the ride along with camaraderie of the riders helped me heal even more. Being a rider, and working with the team to help to ensure that our fallen officers are never forgotten is an honor like no other. The best part about the ride is hearing the stories from officers and survivors, and, when the ride gets tough, placing a hand on the back of a fellow rider to help them along. I’m proud to say that I have now completed five rides, and will continue to ride as long as I am able.
Law enforcement has changed a lot in the past 13 years, and, with several years to go for me, I will see many more. One thing that I vow to always do is remember and honor those officers who gave their lives while serving, and ensure that their families know how much their sacrifice means to us.
Lastly, for all law enforcement officers, from the bookmarked page of the Bible that Officer Jen Sebena kept in her locker:
“Keep me safe, oh God, for in you I take refuge.” -Psalm 16:
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