A man on a motorcycle gets hit and
killed by an elderly driver hauling a trailer. Motorcycle rider
deaths in Michigan are not uncommon. In 2013, 127 motorcycle riders
died in crashes, 13% of all traffic deaths (source).
This death was especially horrifying: the victim was dragged 4 miles
under the trailer. Even so, it would have been a single-day, local
news item had the victim been a school teacher, factory worker or
any other ordinary human being. But this was a police officer - a
state trooper - so there were stories not only in state media,
New York Daily News,
Chicago Tribune and the United Kingdom's
If the victim had been an ordinary
citizen, there would have been a quiet funeral attended by family,
friends and co-workers. Instead, there were 3,500 attendees
including police from around the state and across the country. There was the traditional
"end of watch"
radio call. There were bagpipers. The U.S. flag flew from a
Michigan State Troopers bikes are lined up outside of the
funeral for Trooper Chad Wolf at Fenton High School in
Fenton. Kimberly Mitchell/Detroit Free Press photographer
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder looks on as the Metro Detroit
Police and Fire Pipes and Drums leads the procession for the
casket. Kimberly Mitchell/Detroit Free Press photographer
The car procession for Trooper Chad Wolf
begins after his funeral. Kimberly Mitchell/Detroit Free
Among the attendees was Governor Rick
Snyder, honoring one of his state employees. Would he have been there if the
victim had been a state social worker?
This death was tragic, but not heroic.
The trooper was on duty, but not involved in a pursuit or any
activity specific to the job. He was in the wrong place at the wrong
time on a motorcycle.
As I have
said here before, these elaborate funerals
are not spontaneous. In
Michigan, they are organized by the Michigan Sheriff’s & Municipal
Memorial Assistance Response Team (S.M.M.A.R.T.), created and led by
Lieutenant Timothy Jungel of the Eaton County Sheriff’s Office: (source)
The team’s purpose is to help the
family and department by alleviating the stress of planning a
funeral in order to allow them to take time for themselves to
begin healing and dealing with other emergencies. The team is
available 24-hours a day, responds to the community following
the tragedy, and remains on-site until the final call. There is
no cost to the requesting agency for S.M.M.A.R.T.’s services.
An important element of a law enforcement memorial service is
the role of the Honor Guard unit, which traditionally helps plan
the ceremonial aspects and logistics of the service. As the
Honor Guard/Color Guard Coordinator for his agency, Lieutenant
Jungel is responsible for the “casket watch,” the visitation,
and the funeral and graveside services. He also coordinates the
pallbearers, the bagpiper, and the bugler. Lieutenant Jungel has
attended every funeral the Michigan Sheriff’s Association’s
S.M.M.A.R.T. team has assisted with since its inception in 2003.
To get a real idea of just how
elaborate these funerals are, watch this 4-minute, professional grade
video of the
Grant Whitaker funeral, with Josh Groban singing "You
Lift Me Up" on the soundtrack.
Grant Whitaker was the Ingham County Sheriff deputy who crashed
last December while pursuing a speeder at 117 mph at night on a 2-lane blacktop.
I'd like to know who pays for all of this. Are the
officers who attend from all over the state and all over the
country doing so on their own time? Are they reimbursing
their employer for use of the vehicle? Who is doing their
job when they are away? Who furnishes the horses, helicopters and hook-and-ladder trucks?
How much of
it is paid for out of public funds?
partial answer, this from the
labor contract for Ingham County Sheriff officers
(1) vehicle may be released for one (1) day to five
(5) off-duty employees for attendance at the funeral
of any local officer killed in the line of duty
anywhere in the lower peninsula of Michigan, up to a
maximum of five (5) times per year, unless otherwise
approved by the Sheriff. Such attendance shall be
without compensation and with the prior approval of
suspect the purpose of the big show is to enhance the noble image of the
police officer and encourage public generosity when it comes
to special financial benefits and privileges.
One other thing. Does it
really make sense to put cops on motorcycles rather than in
cars? This state trooper would not have been killed had he
been in a car. Are there any situations in police work when
a motorcycle is more effective/practical than a car? Or is it
because it looks cool and is more fun?