2016 was a horrific year for Iowa law enforcement, particularly the Des Moines police department. Nearly one year ago, in March, Officer Susan Farrell and Officer Carlos Puente-Morales were killed in the early hours of March 26th, when the vehicle they were driving in was struck by a drunk driver going the wrong way on Interstate 80 just outside Waukee.
In August, Des Moines Policy Sergeant Shawn Miller was killed returning from the Dallas County Courthouse when a car made a left turn in front of Miller’s motorcycle in De Soto.
In November, Urbandale Police Officer Justin Martin and Des Moines Police Sergeant Anthony Beminio were killed in an ambush-style attack in the middle of the night, each while sitting in their police cars. It is the lives of these fallen law enforcement officers, these peace officers, that prompted my post today.
Just south of the front steps of the Iowa State Capital in Des Moines sits a small monument. It’s not glitzy or fancy, and it could be something you might easily drive past without noticing.
But it’s there. It’s the Iowa Peace Officer Memorial.
The memorial is made up of three outer forms, with a path from each one leading the monument in the center. The marble block in front of the monument explains what each piece stands for:
The three outer forms represent the three levels of law enforcement in Iowa.
The equal spacing represents the equal sharing of responsibility.
The circles represent the cooperation and fraternity between agencies and departments.
The three gray paths to the center represent the agencies and departments uniting to serve, sacrifice, and mourn.
The center pinnacle represents the service, dedication, and sacrifice shared by each peace officer.
The top of each outer form represents the aim of each peace officer with the goal being just short of the ultimate act of giving one’s life, which is represented by the top of the center pinnacle.
Because the loss of these five peace officers in 2016 all happened in Central Iowa, there are constant daily reminders of what happened. Every single day on my way to work, I drive under the interstate overpass at the Waukee exit, and drive on the exact spot where Officers Farrell and Puente-Morales were killed. For weeks and maybe even months, the blackened asphalt made me shudder as I thought about what happened that night. While the balloons, crosses and flower are all gone, I will never forget exactly where that accident happened.
On my way home from work everyday, I get off the interstate at my exit, and sit at the stop sign waiting to turn left to drive the last few blocks to get home. As I sit waiting at the stop sign every day, I only have to look straight ahead to see the memorial for Sergeant Miller. The white cross with the blue ribbon tied to the utility pole, covered in visitors’ handwriting. Withered flowers sit at the base of the pole.
As we get off the interstate and head into Des Moines to go towards Merle Hay Mall, my husband will point down Aurora Avenue to the west and say “Just down that road is where Officer Martin was killed.” All of these are just that close to home.
I think all of these things are what make the Iowa Peace Officers Memorial even more important. A solemn tribute to a profession full of individuals that put their lives on the line every day as they kiss their family goodbye, never knowing what the day will bring or if they will return home safely. This Memorial honors those peace officers, and also serves as another constant reminder of the enormous debt of gratitude and respect we owe to each and every one of them.
The Iowa Peace Officers Memorial is located on the State Capitol complex, next to the Oran Pape State Office Building. Make sure to stop by and pay a visit when you’re in the area.