Indiana State University Newsroom

Criminology students send condolence cards to fallen officers’ survivors

June 5, 2016

An Indiana State University criminology/criminal justice instructor helped students make a connection to bereaved departments -- and underscored a dangerous reality of the job -- when criminology students wrote condolence cards to the departments of fallen officers.

"I was trying to find something to do -- more interactive -- with the class, as opposed to just a lecture. A lot of our students want to be police officers," said instructor Travis Behem. Those who did not have friends and family in law enforcement probably know someone who is an officer, he added.

"It's something outside of class to think about, this field that (they're) going to go into, that it is a dangerous job, and it's also giving back to the community," he said.

The project in Behem's Introduction to Policing class received a grant from the university's Center for Community Engagement to purchase the cards -- which are designed to feature a thin blue line for solidarity -- and they started writing at the end of January. By April, the class had written more than 900 cards to 19 police departments with fallen officers and five canine officers killed in the line of duty. More than 30 officers died just this year, said Behem.

"After we wrote eight or 10 of them or so, you start to feel like you're writing a card every couple of days. It wears you down," said Behem. "It kind of hits home, but it happens all the time."

Behem says he understands why many people want to become police officers, but the danger does not only affect the individuals wearing the badge.

"This is a profession where, prepare the best you can ... there's families to think about, if you're going to get married or not, and your own family, siblings," he said "It has an impact on the community if an officer is killed. We had an officer killed here in 2011, which had a big impact on Terre Haute."

In July 2011, Terre Haute police officer Brent Long died while serving an arrest warrant to Shaun M. Seeley, who opened fire on Long and his fellow officers from the U.S. Marshal's Service Fugitive Task Force and the Indiana State Police. Long's canine partner, Shadow, was critically injured but recovered. Seeley died in the shootout, and Long died at Union Hospital. He was 34 years old.

Behem says the officers they have written in honor of died during a wide range of duties, including from serving warrants and eviction notices to responding to domestic disputes and car chases.

"(Massachusetts Trooper Thomas L. Clardy) was doing a traffic citation, and a car swerved over three lines and ran into him. It's everything you can imagine," Behem said.

Ashley Guindon of Massachusetts, 28, was sworn into the Prince William County Police Department on Feb. 26. The next day, Guindon answered a domestic call and was fatally shot by Ronald Williams Hamilton, whose wife was already dead inside the house. Two other officers were also injured.

Indiana State criminal justice major Brandon Capper said that as an officer, he thoroughly appreciated the condolence cards initiative.

"The officers who sacrificed their lives for their friends, family and community deserve more than just a card," Capper said. "The project has made a huge impact on his students and the families of fallen officers. It was the least I can do."

Behem hopes to receive another grant in the fall to continue the project.

"It's a note card, but I told my students, it's going to make a difference. (Departments) get hundreds of thousands of cards and so on, but to get a package from students hundreds of miles away, that's going to mean something to them. We can make a difference just sitting in the classroom," Behem said.


Contact: Travis Behem, instructor, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, or 812-237-2196

Writer: Kristen Kilker, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, or 812-237-3773