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Meet the tight-knit group of people who have lost a loved one in the line of duty

"Over time, your grief changes and it becomes purposeful."
Sheryl Schwartz remembers late husband
Posted at 9:42 PM, Sep 16, 2022

WINDSOR, Colo. — Among those paying their respects to fallen Arvada Officer Dillon Vakoff are members of a small but powerful support network, who know personally the pain of losing a loved one in the line of duty. In the darkest moments of their lives, the solidarity they find can become a soul-saving bright spot.

“It’s a club you don’t intend to join,” said Sheryl Schwartz, clutching a blanket inscribed with her late husband’s name. “But you do, and it’s best thing that happened to me with my grief.”

The club she’s referring to is C.O.P.S., which stands for “Concerns of Police Survivors.” It’s a network of support for officers and family members who have lost a loved one in the line of duty, and offers both emotional comfort and solidarity as well as financial assistance with counseling, travel to memorial ceremonies and more. Most of the volunteers of the organization were at one point beneficiaries of its support, including Schwartz.

“21 years ago, my husband was a police officer in Fremont County in southern Colorado. And he was killed in the line of duty 17 days after September 11th. So nationally, we had this big tragedy, and then locally in our small town, we did,” Schwartz said. “I had literally five weeks early just had a baby. So, I went from married, happily married with a baby to a solo parent.”

Officer Jason Schwartz was shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance call, just as Officer Dillon Vakoff was earlier this week. According to the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund, shooting deaths of officers are up 18% compared to last year, and domestic disturbance calls are the leading cause.

“We’re seeing that every day, when we go on calls, the types of calls that we go on are a lot more acute, a lot more dangerous,” said Sergeant Robert Cook with the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, who is also a volunteer for C.O.P.S. “There’s a lot more situations with firearms involved where actually shots are being fired. And so, how that affects us as law enforcement officers is that we have to be ready to deal with those situations, and part of that is our training. And we have to take training seriously. We have to do more training. We have to have the best equipment to keep us safe.

“Underneath the badge and the uniform is a real human being. And sometimes, I don’t think that necessarily translates to everybody in the public.”

Both Cook and Schwartz want to see a shift in the way society views law enforcement and the dangers they face on the job, they said. In the meantime, though, they are volunteering through C.O.P.S. to support Vakoff’s family, and the others who will find themselves enduring the same heartbreak.

“Over time, your grief changes,” Schwartz said, reflecting on the 21 years that have passed since she lost her husband. “It becomes purposeful."

If you are interested in learning more about C.O.P.S., or donating to its cause, you can visit its website.