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Indiana police superintendent gives insight to generationally ‘Honoring the Fallen’

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The year 2023 has been filled with tragedy and heartbreak, with police departments stunned and communities in mourning after five officers in Indiana have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty since Jan. 1.

At least 49 members of the Indiana State Police have died in the line of duty since 1933. Their names are etched on an Indiana State Police memorial. The memorial  at the state police post on Post Road in Indianapolis includes an eternal flame that burns in their memory.

Doug Carter, superintendent of the state police, confirmed 2023 has been especially hard on his agency. An interview with him aired Thursday on the News 8 special “Honoring the Fallen.”

“‘Sad’ is the first word that comes to mind. Most of us in this business are fixers. We can’t fix this. So when James Bailey was killed on March 3, Steven back on Oct. 9, 2017, and then June 28 with Aaron Smith, it changes us for sure. There’s no question about that. John Durham from Marion County. Yes, just it just really shame. It’s just really a shame.”

Carter has served for decades and under multiple administrations. He said the last time he remembers this much loss was in 1999. “We lost three troopers in 90 days. I believe it was in 1999. But, you know, we can’t compartmentalize any one. It’s the totality of what’s happened. We accepted that risk to that risk and that responsibility. But a part of us dies every single time and occurs. And that’s just the reality. We’re human. We’re expected to be something other than that. But, we are human.” 

The painful abrupt stop of experiencing a loss is something Carter describes as a reset.

“To realize the magnitude of what it is we do, well, you’ve chosen to do inherently dangerous, high speed, highly critical, no matter what you do. But, they still go on. They still do it and they they volunteer to put themselves in harm’s way and ultimately to give their lives for the lives of others. What greater calling is there? I don’t think there is one.

“I’m sad. I’m broken. But, I am a lucky guy to get to represent such consummate professionals and all they do. We’re going to be OK. This period of time over the course of the last three years and a few months has given us an opportunity to completely flush ourselves out. I’m proud of the Indiana State Police and that they’ve done to do that.”

Throughout 2023, heartfelt images of communities gathering in masses underneath garrison flags, lining streets with their hands over their hearts, has become far too common. The intricate ceremonies and traditions are carefully and intentionally planned for each fallen officer.

Carter said certain moments, especially the quiet ones, stick with him the most.

“Certainly, Taps and 21-gun salute and the carriage and the horse, but most probably, most importantly to me, is that 20, 25 30 seconds where I present a flag to a spouse. It’s brutal. It just I can’t imagine what she’s thinking and I can’t help her. You know, I just can’t help her.

“We spend a lot of time and we have people that are some have built the structure by which we play in line of duty death funerals, and they are so incredibly committed because it’s a 24/7 responsibility from the time it occurs. Before I even got to Eskenazi Hospital on June 28, that planning was already been done had already begun. Unbelievable.”

The unseen coordination across organizations and departments adds to the awe of what the public does see.

“The relationship with IMPD (Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department), 28th, unbelievable. I walked out the doors of Eskenazi Hospital. I walked out with her and my wife and my daughter, and I looked down and there’s 15 or 16 IPD motorcycles waiting for us in the sally port. They came in on their own time. Unbelievable.

“So, those are the kinds of things that we have to not only memorialize, but we have to appreciate” 

Among the loss are reminders of why so many people are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. Carter was reminded of that during Smith’s procession to Crown Hill cemetery.

“If anybody thinks now’s not a good time to be in this business, they are so wrong. They need to look at the video of that procession with the moms and the dads and workers and cars that were stopped and held for an hour and a half or two hours at an intersection. Again, IMPD took care of all that for us. But the people that were out there to pay tribute and show appreciation for his life and his service. It was unbelievable.

“It was it was remarkable to see little kids with their hands on their hearts or trying to salute or a sole individual step out of his car and walk up to an American flag and standard attention all by himself. Nobody around nobody’s seeing but I was able to see it somewhere near the garrison flag. It makes your heart warm. And that’s the kind of thing we’re missing in this world.” 

A memorial of brass faces of troopers who made the ultimate sacrifices hangs right outside of Carter’s door. It serves a reminder and gut check every day.

“It’s a sacred place, and when I first came into this role 10-1/2 years ago, I didn’t want to add any names to that board, and I have not been so fortunate, but, yes, there are people living in immortal way. When I think I’m having a bad day I just go out there and stand for a while.

“We never forget them. Every single year in 15 places around Indiana, 14 of our posts and once at general headquarters down at our hangar in Greenwood, we do memorialize them. We talk about them. We talked about how they died. It’s amazing to see the surviving family members that come and some of them that have been stabbed, have died or were killed 30, 40, 50 years ago. They still come to those.”  

Carter said staying true to the commitment to intentionally remember and honor the fallen is the best the fellow law enforcement communities can do. Perpetually remembering their service will continue to be a generational standard for years to come.

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