Care of Police Survivors (COPS) is this month celebrating 15 years of supporting the families of police officers who lost their lives on duty.
The charity was set up to connect bereaved families, helping them to create new support networks amongst others who understand their situation, and to gradually rebuild their lives.
Since its foundation, each year the charity has held a ‘Survivor Weekend’, providing its beneficiaries [known as Survivors] the opportunity to forge friendships, share experiences and gain strength and hope for the future.
Over the years as COPS has grown, the charity began to offer a wider range of peer support events for different groups of Survivors, such as the spouses, children, parents and siblings.
Today COPS supports more than 400 Survivors, and also funds professional counselling support for bereaved families, as well as meeting the cost of driving lessons for surviving children.
COPS National President Denis Gunn, who lost his son PC Richard Gunn of Surrey Police in 2004, said: “Despite having been associated with COPS for 14 of its 15 years, it really only struck me last year just how much I have benefited from the amazing unique peer support that the charity provides. I have seen the charity grow from an acorn to a mighty oak tree and become a hugely respected organisation. COPS has helped hundreds of survivors like myself and I cannot imagine how I would have coped with the loss of my son without the wonderful support I have received.”
COPS was founded by Christine Fulton, who lost her husband of less than two years, PC Lewis Fulton, in 1994, and Strathclyde Police Detective Jim McNulty.
Jim, who sadly died of leukaemia in 2004, became interested in setting up a charity to help the families of officers who had lost their lives on duty after attending Police Week in the US, following the death of close friend Danny P. Elkins, an American officer.
In 2003, he organised a trip to Police Week and was joined by Christine and her son Luke, who was then nine. Christine spent her time there getting to know other police widows and meeting the organisers of an American charity called Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S).
They returned to the UK determined to start something similar, and when 64 people turned up for the first survivors’ weekend in 2003, Christine knew that COPS was meeting a great need.
She said: “Founding COPS helped me come to terms with my own grief. My brain was stagnating and this gave me a purpose and a reason to go on. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would be as big as this.
“We are recognised by every police force in the UK as the support network for surviving families – and we are there for the rest of their lives.”
The charity will be celebrating its milestone anniversary by welcoming Dianne Bernhard and Cheryl Schultz, CEO and National President of American organisation ‘Concerns of Police Survivors’ (C.O.P.S.) to Survivor Weekend in July. While visiting, they will commemorate a newly signed reciprocal agreement between Concerns of Police Survivors and Care of Police Survivors to support each other’s expatriate Survivors.
COPS also helps to ensure its beneficiaries remain part of the police family. The police service does not have the resources to continue its support beyond the immediate aftermath of an officer’s death, but the charity works to help maintain the connection between Survivors and the police family, by encouraging officers to be involved in the work of COPS.