Police Officer Joseph Robert Burns

Police Officer Joseph Robert Burns

Philadelphia Police Department, Pennsylvania

End of Watch Monday, October 7, 1918

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Joseph Robert Burns

Police Officer Joseph Burns contracted Spanish Influenza while assigned to his duties at the Liberty Loans Parade on September 28, 1918. Officer Burns became ill the next day and was taken to his home in the 100 block of Manton Street where he died of complications eight days later.

Cities throughout the country were hosting parades to promote government bonds and raise money for wartime efforts. The city of Philadelphia was in charge of raising $259 million during the fall of 1918. The Philadephia Liberty Bond Parade was projected to have 10,000 attendees, but more than 200,000 people attended.

On September 19, 1918, sailors at the Philadelphia Navy Yard who returned from the war in Europe were struck with influenza. The day following the parade, more than 100 cases of flu were present in the city of Philadelphia. By October 1, every bed in Philadelphia's 31 hospitals was filled. On October 3, the city of Philadelphia shut down. One week later, 4,500 citizens were declared dead of the Spanish flu, and 47,000 people were infected.

Police Officer Burns served with the Philadelphia Police Department for 18 and a half years and was assigned to the 33rd Police District. He was survived by his wife and two sons.

Effects of Spanish Flu on Law Enforcement

From 1918 to early 1919, the Spanish Flu pandemic infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed approximately 675,000 Americans. Many officers contracted this virus due to the requirements of their job.

The names of every officer who died in the line of duty from the Spanish Flu will likely never be known, but ODMP researchers continue to uncover new cases as part of our mission to never forget the fallen.

Please click here to view ODMP's Spanish Flu memorial listing all known fallen officers from the pandemic.


  • Age 37
  • Tour 18 years, 6 months
  • Badge 3331

Incident Details

  • Cause Duty related illness
  • Incident Date Saturday, September 28, 1918

Spanish Influenza, Epidemic, parade

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“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."
Matthew 5:9

Chris Di Gerolamo
Federal Air Marshal Service (Retired)

May 25, 2024

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