Celebrating Illinois’ Hero Officers on National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day

National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day was created by multiple organizations in 2015. The group C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors) helped establish the day, noting that law enforcement officers have chosen a difficult career path and need to be shown respect and recognition by the people who they protect and uphold the law for. 

Rep. Spain during a 2023 meeting with Chief Neblung (left) of Fulton and Chief Hermes of Albany Fulton.

The backlash and violence towards police officers that occurred after a series of events in 2014 led C.O.P.S. to move forward to try and help change the negative portrayal of police officers. The day also raises awareness to the importance of understanding the difficult decisions taken by officers are in the best interest of citizens and the law. 

In Illinois, there are a number of heartwarming stories of police officers performing heroic acts while in the line of duty, and even off duty. Palos Park police officer Ryan Franczak was on vacation in Arizona last summer. Franczak was water tubing in a river when he noticed an older man fall off his tube and into dangerous rapids. Franczak was able to move quickly and find the man under water and pull him to the shoreline, saving him from drowning. 

In 2022, a Marion Police Officer’s quick actions helped save the life a 7-year-old girl. Officer Sam Ward answered the 911 call with the girl on her bedroom floor, not breathing. Upon arrival, Ward found the child turning blue. The officer performed life-saving CPR, including mouth-to-mouth and chest compressions, and the girl slowly began to breathe again. The child suffered from a vocal cord virus that can swell her airways shut. Officer Ward was formally recognized at a ceremony at a later date by the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police and was able reunite with the girl whose life he saved. 

In 2022 in Decatur, three officers received the Department’s Medal of Valor for their actions in an early-morning shootout. Just after midnight in October, officers made a traffic stop and shots were fired. Officers Austin Bowman and Timothy Wittmer were injured in the line of duty working as part of the department’s Community Action Team. This team works with the Decatur Street Crimes Unit to seize illegal firearms.

Four Bensenville officers received the Police Medal of Valor in 2022 from the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police for heroic actions in the face of imminent risk or death. The officers were called to a domestic disturbance in late 2021 involving a mother and son. Upon arrival to the scene, Officer Steven Kotlewski was shot by the son with a 10-round magazine, breaking both of his legs. Kotlewski was shot again as he attempted to leave, and this time a major artery was severed and he was bleeding profusely. Other officers helped to save Kotlewski’s life and they were able to slow down the bleeding and transport him to medics nearby who could not enter the scene due to it still not being safe or secure. 

Officer Kristian Casillas remained at the scene, and he was able to apprehend the suspect with help from an officer from Elmhurst. After undergoing five surgeries and hours and hours of therapy, Officer Kotlewski returned home just six weeks later and continued to work at physical therapy. 

In 2020 in a residential neighborhood in Springfield, a woman was driving way too fast and lost control, slamming the vehicle into a home. The house quickly caught fire. Two Springfield officers were able to rescue an 83-year-old man from the burning home. Officers Juan Resendez and Nicholas Renfro were first to arrive on scene and they kicked a door down and rescued the man from his kitchen as smoke and flames were closing in. 

In 2018 in Dixon, a school resource officer saved “countless” numbers of lives after he stopped an armed teenager at a high school. The suspect, a former student at the school, had fired several shots near a gym. Officer Mark Dallas reported the incident and then pursued the suspect, who shot several rounds at the officer. Dallas returned fire and hit the gunman, who was able to be detained and taken into custody with non-life-threatening injuries.

If you have a police officer as a friend or family member, National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day on January 9 is a good day to show officers how much you understand their difficult work and appreciate their risks and sacrifices. Citizens can show support for law enforcement in a number of ways, including wearing blue clothing, sending a card of support to their local police department, and sharing a positive story about law enforcement on social media.