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When I was sworn in as U.S. Attorney, the first order I was given by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was to back our women and men in blue. The Department of Justice is committed to supporting law enforcement officers and celebrating the noble, essential and challenging work they do.

One of the Attorney General’s favorite topics is a recent survey about what kids want to be when they grow up. According to the survey, “police officer” used to be the number 10 dream job for kids under the age of 12. Now, it is number three overall — and for boys it is number one.

That’s probably the best possible news we could have: more and more of our young people want to wear the badge.

The most important thing that any government does is protect the safety and rights of its citizens. Everything else depends on that.

That is the daily calling of police officers. Whenever something goes wrong or anyone is in distress, they are the ones who answer the call. They are the thin blue line standing in the breach between safety and lawlessness. They keep the peace, protect us from danger, and uphold the rule of law. We must never forget how fortunate we are that there are men and women who willingly dedicate their lives to this mission.

In 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the surrounding week as National Police Week. Each year at this time, we pay special recognition to those officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others.

Since 1791, more than 22,000 law enforcement officers have made the ultimate sacrifice. At least 69 line of duty deaths have happened here in South Dakota since Territorial days. In terms of loss of life, no law enforcement entity in the state has sacrificed more than the Rapid City Police Department. Eight Rapid City officers have been killed in the line of duty.

The first occurred in 1885, when Rapid City Town Marshal Billy Wilson was shot and killed by three cowboys who had come to town. Rapid City had an ordinance prohibiting the carrying of weapons inside city limits. When Marshal Wilson attempted to disarm the men inside the Horse Market Saloon, they opened fire, leaving him dead for simply upholding his duty to enforce the law.

Our most recent tragedy, one that still resonates throughout the community, occurred on the afternoon of August 2, 2011. Officers Nick Armstrong and Ryan McCandless were responding to a call about four suspects on the corner of East Anamosa and Greenbriar streets. One of the suspects pulled out a concealed handgun and opened fire. Tragically, Officers Armstrong and McCandless received fatal wounds. A third, Officer Tim Doyle, also was shot but thankfully survived and is still on the beat today.

It is fitting and right that we join together to honor our fallen heroes and pay our respect to their loved ones. Any loss of life is one too many. But it is encouraging that the number of officers killed in the line of duty nationally declined last year to its second lowest level in more than half a century.

We celebrate the contributions of police officers, recognizing their hard work and dedication in keeping our communities safe. The women and men of law enforcement — whether federal, state, local, or tribal — should never doubt that they have our deepest admiration and gratitude.

This week, and every week, let us remember to thank the Blue.

Ron Parsons is the 42nd United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota.

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