Arts & Culture
3:52 pm
Thu September 13, 2012

Stateside: Michigan nonprofit, MI-C.O.P.S. supports families of fallen officers

West Bloomfield Township this week lost a police officer in the line of duty—a tragic "first" for the community.

39-year-old Officer Patrick O'Rourke was responding to a "shots fired" call at a home in West Bloomfield. His partner says they thought they were coming to help a family in distress with a possible suicide. Instead, a blast of bullets through a bedroom door killed Officer O'Rourke.

He leaves behind his wife Amy and four small children. His funeral will be held tomorrow morning.

Diane Philpot knows the agony of losing a first responder in the line of duty.

Her husband was Detroit Police Officer Jerry Philpot. On May 25, 1995, Officer Philpot was killed by suspected gang members, leaving Diane to raise their 7-month-old daughter Katelyn.

Since then, as part of the group Michigan Concerns of Police Survivors or MI-C.OP.S., Diane Philpot reaches out to support the families of fallen officers...

Cyndy spoke with Diane about her involvement with the organization, beginning right after her husband’s death.

Diane claimed the group saved her life.

“Your body can only take so much,” she said. Feeling numb and considering suicide Diane was saved by a member of MI-C.O.P.S. Their words seemed to break through the dream state she was in.

"When you have someone walk up and say, 'There are many of us. And we are all here to support you.' That stuck in my head as a lifeline," she said.

“When you have someone walk up and say, ‘There are many of us. And we are all here to support you.’ That stuck in my head as a lifeline,” she said.

“There was someone who made it. And they’re not dead. Because I really feel like I want to die.”

Without MI-C.O.P.S., Philpot said, she doesn’t see how she could have made it through the day-to-day over 17 years since her husband’s death.

“Most people think you’re supposed to grieve two weeks then you’re done,” she said, “but sometimes you never get over it.”

Cyndy wondered if only someone who has experienced such a loss can really understand.

“What I can say is that I’ve been through a lot of the emotions you’re going to go through,” said Philpot. She mentioned that grieving is different for everyone and she just tries to remind people that what they are thinking is normal.

Cyndy mentioned how events such as the death of Officer O’Rourke and 9/11 increases the public’s sensitivity to the risks of jobs like police officer. Cyndy wondered if Philpot was aware of that sensitivity.

Philpot mentioned the dangers of all jobs, but said the really important thing is how you feel when you’re working.

“If you can die doing what you love,” she said, “it’s so much better than being miserable.”

Philpot and MI-C.O.P.S. have reached out to the family of Officer O’Rourke. While she hopes it never needs to be used, a support system is in place, she said.

Cyndy was wondering if Philpot could help her understand a helpful way to show support and caring.

“Don’t try to fix it,” Philpot said.

“Don’t promise something you are not going to do. I’d love to write a book on what not to say because of the stupid things people say.”

Philpot talked about her own experience.

“I remember everything someone said that I wanted to punch them for—and they were friends of mine.”

Don’t say any more than sorry and give your prayers. And if you want to do something: just do it, she said.

Cyndy asked Philpot how her daughter Katelyn remembered her dad.

Philpot told Cyndy the story of how her daughter ran up one day saying that Daddy’s song was playing. Confused for a moment, Philpot soon remembered that her husband used to dance around with Katelyn to the song “Tootsie Roll.” She had never told her daughter about the dancing.

“People will tell them stories from now til they’re grown,” Philpot said.

Cyndy wondered if police officers might appreciate a post-9/11 type of awareness.

“Remember that police officers are human beings,” Philpot said. Just giving them a smile could make their day, she said.

Cyndy asked what Philpot learned from the experience.

“Have patience with yourself,” Philpot said.

“Don’t do what everyone else tells you, you should do. What you want to do is correct,” she said.

MI-C.O.P.S. has a number of programs to help family members, from kids camps to retreats for adults.

To learn more and support MI-C.O.P.S.visit their website. Also, visit the Officer Down Memorial Page to learn more about how to support Michigan's fallen officers.

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- Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom