BEVERLY HILLS, CA — Normally, Sergeant Sean Smollen of the Beverly Hills Police Department would have spent this past week biking from New Jersey to Washington, D.C. with hundreds of other officers. Once in D.C., he would join thousands of other officers from around the country for a week of memorials to fallen officers.
“It’s very somber, and it’s a little overwhelming about how many people have passed away,” said Smollen. In 2019, 146 officers were killed in the line of duty, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. This year, 77 have already been killed.
The week of May 15 is National Police Week, which honors the work and sacrifices of police. Normally representatives from the BHPD travel to Washington to participate in the bike ride and ceremonies, and raise thousands of dollars for the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. Other BHPD officers travel to Sacramento to join other departments from around the state.
“Every year it means more to me,” said BHPD Field Training Officer Jeffrey Newman. “As you start to have friends and acquaintances and people you went to training with, more and more people find out the negative things of law enforcement that happen to some of these people, whether they’re involved in deadly encounters, some sort of illness or injury or paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
This year, COVID-19 has made all of that impossible, and the usual weeks’ worth of ceremonies has been moved online, which Newman compared to a church service on TV rather than being in an actual church. “Is it the next best thing? Yeah, of course, and we’re glad that we were able to do this…but at the same time, it’s not the same,” he added.
This year, the pandemic has also added an extra level of danger to the officers’ normal duties, since they are out on the streets every day and in regular contact with the public. Newman said that this Police Week, officers are thinking about their health in addition to their physical safety.
Smollen said that since the pandemic, officer patrol times have been staggered to avoid any COVID exposure.
“When I was working patrol, I’d take precautions – rubber gloves, I’d have a mask, touching and talking to people, and obviously going home, when you have a wife and children,” he said, praising the city for offering regular disinfecting and testing services.
But during this difficult time, the Beverly Hills community has found many ways to show its appreciation for the people protecting it. Every day this past week, local restaurants have supplied the department with free meals. Officers have received food from private residents and Umami, Sam’s Crispy Chicken, Krispy Rice (through Beverly Hills hotel chain SBE), Urth Caffee, Factor’s Deli, Wally’s, and the Beverly Hills Hilton.
Police have been receiving free meals since the start of the pandemic, when the city’s COVID-19 Kindness Task Force launched the Frontline Meals program, which raised over $30,000 for local restaurants to deliver daily meals to the city’s frontline workers. On Friday, the Beverly Hills City Hall will be lit up blue to observe National Police Week. Newman also said that doctors are offering the department masks and other protective equipment.
“A couple people walked up today and said, ‘Sorry officer, I don’t want to interrupt, but I just want to say thank you for what you do,’” said Newman. “And I don’t think people understand just how much that motivates officers to push through their day, especially when people are mouthing off on you. So for somebody to walk in outside of that negative loop and say, ‘I see you, I appreciate what you’re doing’ a lot of time does a lot of good.”