Oklahomans and Americans everywhere were being encouraged to thank a police officer Friday, as part of the first-ever Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.
Organizers of the event, Missouri-based Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), promoted it as a chance "to show law enforcement officers that our citizens recognize the difficult and sometimes impossible career they have chosen."
On the group's web site officials posed the question, "Can you imagine going to work each day and wondering if you'll survive your shift and see your family that night?"
Recent events in Missouri and New York made that question more pertinent, as citizens have expressed outrage at police over actions that resulted in the deaths of two black men. In both cases, grand juries determined that the officers' actions did not warrant criminal charges.
Two New York Police Department (NYPD) officers were apparently intentionally targeted by someone who was angry about those decisions. Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot and killed, execution-style, on Dec. 20.
"Not ever coming home is the biggest risk," said Oklahoma City FOP Vice President Mark Nelson.
Nelson said all police officers potentially put their lives on the line each day. Nelson said they don't expect to be thanked, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't thank them for their service.
"Just tell them that you appreciate it -- if you do," said Nelson, "That means a lot."
There were several instances where people showed appreciation at police departments across Oklahoma Friday. In Oklahoma City, Blue Bell Ice Cream dropped off ice cream sandwiches for the officers.
In Norman, officers were given cake, balloons and survival kits from local businesses.
"I think people are realizing law enforcement is not the enemy," Nelson stated. "We are here to do a job of protecting and serving."
In McLoud, a couple of police officers joined with school kids in a game to raise money for Officer Alan Smith, who is still in recovery after a garbage truck crashed into his patrol car last month.
"We are stuck in very difficult situations [and have to make] split decisions daily,” Nelson remarked.
The event was put together in two weeks, so organizers said they realize it may take a year or two for it to catch on with everyone.
Nelson has been an officer for 14 years and said this day, and the gratitude shown, will make a difference.
"I can tell you from personal experience and from hearing the stories from other officers that it goes a long way."
According to a COPS news release, other ways people were being encouraged to show their gratitude was to change their Facebook profile pictures to the event's logo graphic. People could also participate in "Project Blue Light" by replacing white porch lights with blue lights.