Police Week 2022: Big Bend family shares experience with Concerns of Police Survivors group
WAHINGTON, D.C. (WCTV) - On Friday, May 13, thousands will pack the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to take part in a candlelight vigil honoring 611 fallen officers.
Six of those people are from the Big Bend and South Georgia.
For the non-profit C.O.P.S., or Concerns of Police Survivors, part of its mission is to help families of the fallen attend the vigil and connect survivors to each other.
Its slogan and goal are to “rebuild shattered lives”.
This week, WCTV’s Abby Walton is in DC for Police Week with her husband as part of the Northeast Florida Chapter of C.O.P.S.
There are five C.O.P.S. chapters in Florida and one in Georgia.
The group helps survivors of the fallen, from spouses and kids to siblings and parents, and even coworkers.
Last month, a Leon County family talked with Walton about their experience with the Northeast Florida chapter of C.O.P.S. and how it’s made a huge difference in their lives.
“It is incredibly overwhelming,” Erika Hall said.
Hall described her first Police Week in 2015.
Five months earlier, her husband, Leon County Deputy Chris Smith, was shot and killed in an ambush after responding to a house fire.
“I had never heard of C.O.P.S. in my life,” Hall said.
But she said the group reached out to her days after Smith’s death.
She admits putting them off until a woman named Janis Lampe called.
Deputy Smith’s name was going on the National Memorial Wall and C.O.P.S. wanted to help send her family to D.C.
“They’re only allowed to be honored one time and if you’re not there, that’s it. You never get to do it again,” Lampe, president of the Northeast Florida C.O.P.S. chapter, said.
Lampe’s passion stems from real-life experience.
In 1994, her husband, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Deputy Fred Lampe, died in the line of duty when he had a heart attack.
Back then, the agency didn’t tell her about the memorial.
“It broke our hearts to find out that he had these wonderful honors, and we weren’t there,” Lampe said.
Four years later, she and another survivor, Charles Shinholser, started the Northeast Florida C.O.P.S. chapter, raising money to send survivor families to D.C.
“This gives you the opportunity to connect with people that have been in your situation in a way,” Hall said.
Besides escorting them to the wall and vigil, C.O.P.S. also hosts its annual conference in D.C.
“The conferences are where the survivors find their long-term support,” Lampe said.
It’s that peer-to-peer connection, Hall said, that makes C.O.P.S. such a vital group, not just for her, but also for her son, Hunter, and Smith’s daughter, Gabby.
“It taught me how to understand him better because kids grieve very differently than we do,” Hall said.
The conference offers sessions on many topics, ranging from benefits to preparing for trial and debriefing, which is a session Hall attended in her first year.
“Each person talks about their story, what happened that day, what happened when they got their knock, anything they remember from the funeral,” Hall said.
For her, that unlocked memories that helped in the healing process.
“What I love more than anything is to see you walk away. To come into our organization, but then, you get to the point where you’re ready to go out on your own and to find your new normal,” Lampe said.
Almost eight years after Deputy Smith’s death, Hall has remarried, and their children are thriving.
She attributes much of that to the support they received from C.O.P.S.
Hall said she now wants to pass that on by coming back to Police Week when she can.
“I can provide to somebody that’s a first-year because somebody gave to me my first year,” Hall said.
C.O.P.S. has 55 chapters in the United States.
The bulk of their money is raised through payroll deductions from different law enforcement agencies.
They said 96 cents of every dollar you donate goes directly back to survivor support. To learn more about C.O.P.S., follow this link.
To learn more about the annual candlelight vigil on Friday, May 13, follow this link.
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