Yesterday, May 15, 2017 was Peace Officers Memorial Day. One spring day in 1960 in Washington, D.C., President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation that designated the week in which that date falls as Police Week.
The first Memorial Service was held in 1982 at Senate Park in Washington, D.C. I am honored to have attended the initial ceremony.
What is it like to be a law enforcement officer? Various voices have expressed their opinions, including Paul Harvey who described his idea of a police officer as, “Being able to draw on the run, and hit where it doesn’t hurt. They must be able to whip two men twice their size and half their age, without damaging their uniform and without being ‘brutal’. If you hit them, they are a coward. If they hit you, they are a bully.”
Harvey went on, “A policeman must know where all the sin is and not partake. The policeman must be a minister, a social worker, a diplomat, a tough guy and a gentleman.”
As Sergeant Joe Friday on Dragnet, actor Jack Webb also spoke about the life of a police officer.
“You better not mind missing your son’s or daughter’s game because the phone rings, or having to work every Saturday, Sunday, and holiday. If you count pennies you can put your kid through college, but you better plan on seeing Europe on your television set.”
Then there is actor Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry.
“When a man carries a gun all the time, the respect he thinks he’s getting might really be fear. So I don’t carry a gun because I don’t want the people of Mayberry to fear a gun. I’d rather they respect me, “Andy said.
There is some truth in all those points of view, I guess. There was a time in America when the words of Sheriff Taylor were closer to the truth than those of Harvey or Friday.
Crime is not new. It is old. It can be brutal, cruel, merciless, and cold.
A few years ago, former Wilmington Police Department Officer and Clinton County Sheriff’s Deputy Dave Lieurance visited Sugar Grove Cemetery and placed flowers on the graves of two Wilmington police officers killed in the line of duty.
This year, with the crowd growing larger each May, many community members stood in silence and respectfully watched Wilmington Police Chief Duane Weyand, retired Wilmington Police Chief Thomas White, former Wilmington Police Sergeant Frank Copeland, and Chief Detective Josh Riley place wreaths at the graves of two fallen officers.
The first wreath was placed at the grave of Patrolman Emery McCreight, whose grave is directly east of the bridge between the original section and the new section of Sugar Grove Cemetery.
A wreath was also placed at the grave of Marshal John T. Van Doren. The Marshal’s grave is also in the original section of Sugar Grove Cemetery.
Both men met violent deaths while on duty in order for the citizens of Wilmington to remain safe.
As I reflect back, my time in law enforcement as the Clinton County Sheriff was a special time for me. Fortunately, it was a time before the severe opioid epidemic hit.
There was violence and there were drug-related offenses, of course, but the courts were not overrun as they are today with the constant flow of criminals and broken families.
Clinton County is blessed to have fine law enforcement organizations throughout the county today. It is heartening to know when we dial 911, a professional, competent, and well-trained law enforcement officer will respond in our hour of need.
I still wave at the passing cruisers I meet day-to-day. I attend the Wilmington Police Department and the Clinton County Sheriff’s Christmas Dinner, and the wreath laying ceremony in order to reinforce to those of us who have served that law enforcement continues to be one enormous family.
We are fortunate young boys and girls still daydream about becoming police officers when they grow up. We need them.
I appreciate it.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.
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