As 2014 comes to an end, like many of you, I am thinking back over the past year.
As far as law enforcement in 2014, I find myself somewhat torn.
The past year has not been the best for our profession which has seen 118 Line of Duty Deaths as of December 30th. This is an increase when compared to 2013, and sadly this year we have seen a 57% increase in deaths resulting from gun fire.
Recently, there have been several incidents across the country, which have resulted in many people feeling the need to choose to be pro-police or anti-police.
As I was getting ready for work this morning, I couldn’t help but think about the plot to murder a Rogers, Arkansas cop tonight, on New Year’s Eve. I wondered what those officers’ spouses, parents, kids and buddies were feeling. I wondered if anyone would actually carry out the threat and how many similar plots will surface throughout the day and coming weeks. I also had to wonder what the reaction of the American people would be if there were similar plots (keeping in mind that some murderous ambushes have already been carried out), if they targeted truck drivers, nurses, bank tellers or some other profession?
I understand not everyone is always happy with law enforcement and would agree that because of the authority assigned to our positions, we should be held to a high standard and be subject to public scrutiny.
I also recognize, however, that law enforcement is no different than any other profession and there are a few who wear a badge who have no business doing so. They are in this field for the wrong reasons, but by far, the vast majority of officers are good hearted professionals who are eager to make a positive impact on their neighborhoods.
That’s why I find it disheartening to know there are people out there who would intentionally and randomly murder an officer just because that person made the decision to dedicate their careers to serving their community.
Again, I can understand people becoming frustrated with law enforcement. Sometimes they give you a speeding ticket, sometimes they can’t find your stolen television, sometimes they make a mistake that allows a criminal to go free, sometimes they may come across as rude, and yes, sometimes they may use excessive force.
But I also know, because I see it in Cherokee County on a regular basis, that sometimes people deserve a ticket but instead get a warning, sometimes the officers work well past their shift (without claiming overtime) to return stolen property to a victim, most of the time the officers are extremely meticulous with their paperwork in order to insure there are no errors, sometimes they quietly and secretly purchase groceries for a family who is going through a difficult time and many times law enforcement shows great restraint when a criminal suspect is being combative or defiant.
I’m not writing about this because any of these officers expect a thanks or recognition. They understand they are doing the job they signed up to do. They also know the risks associated with responding to a drunken domestic dispute and 2:30 in the morning or arresting an armed fugitive by themselves alongside a rural county road with their backup 15 minutes away. They accept those risks because they believe in serving this county. They believe in doing their part to make all of our families safer.
What is difficult to accept, though, is the idea that because they choose to serve their community, they may be randomly targeted by cowardly murderers.
These officers have husbands, wives and children. They go to church and coach ball teams. They are not anonymous people, but rather active members of our communities.
Just as that is true in Cherokee County, it is also true in similar communities across this country, and to think that things like police shootings only happen in metropolitan areas is naive. We know differently because we get the notifications each time an officer is killed (even if it doesn’t make it on the national evening news). Those officers killed serve both, small rural towns and major cities.
While those risks are real, and the potential is ever present, one of the biggest differences, and blessings, is that our county has created a strong relationship between citizens and law enforcement.
I am grateful for that relationship because I believe that it can’t be us (law enforcement) versus the citizens, but rather us (law enforcement and the community) versus the criminals.
This philosophy not only serves to help combat criminal activity, but also allows for open lines of communication between law enforcement and the people we are proud to serve.
In short, we have been able to form a strong partnership that not only holds law enforcement accountable but also insures that we are meeting the needs of our county and serving you in a manner you can be proud of.
It is because of the incredible support you have shown me and the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office over the past several years that, despite the issues plaguing other agencies and communities across the country, I am excited to continue moving forward with you in 2015!
I wish you all a Very Happy, Prosperous, and Blessed New Year’s!
Sheriff David M. Groves