ROCKINGHAM — With police nationwide facing more criticism than at any time in recent memory, Richmond County law enforcement and government officials came together on National Police Week to honor officers killed in the line of duty.
The national tally of officer deaths so far in 2018 is 54, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Hamlet Police Chief Scott Waters read the details of those deaths in his remarks at the Richmond County Judicial Center: 27 were due to gunfire; 13 to automobile crashes; three to 9/11 related illness; three to heart attacks; two were struck by a vehicle; two to vehicular assault; one to a wreck while in pursuit of a suspect; one by assault; one by drowning; and one by accidental gunfire.
Waters said he receives about an email a week from a national service that alerts him when an officer reaches their “end of watch.”
“We just need to be mindful, be safe, keep praying that this country’s going to turn around and that the love and respect for humanity is going to come back,” he said. “(We need to keep praying that) we all feel safe to pump gas at the service station, to go to the movies, to go to a concert and watch your favorite entertainer and not have to worry about people shooting and killing you.”
Four members of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office have been killed, according to Officer Down, with the most recent being Sheriff Dewitt William Ormsby, who died in an automobile crash on Jan. 5, 1943. Waters, who will have been in law enforcement 27 years in December, added that he would “never forget” the loss of Hamlet Police Chief John B. Fallow who was killed by a gunman who had just murdered his own wife, two sisters-in-law and nephew on May 5, 1942. (Officer Down did not have any information on losses by the Rockingham Police Department).
Congress asked President John F. Kennedy in 1962 to name May 15 as “Peace Officers Memorial Day” and the week that day falls on to be “National Police Week” to “commemorate law enforcement officers in past and present who have rendered dedicated service to their communities,” according to a summary of a resolution passed this month by the Board of Commissioners.
Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly said that while police officers get the most recognition for the more dramatic parts of the job, their day-to-day activities are likely just as important when it comes to saving lives.
“They may often save a life that you may not recognize whether it’s writing a speeding ticket, getting someone who’s drunk off the road, or even just their mere presence at a call may save some lives that we never see.”
State Rep. Ken Goodman, son of former Sheriff R. W. Goodman, said he was made to sit next to the sheriff to “keep me out of trouble” as a kid, and now, as a legislator, always sits next to Sheriff James Clemmons.
“Once I got grown, I thought I was through with that,” Goodman said. “But every time I would go somewhere, I would end up sitting next to Sheriff Clemmons — so I’m still sitting next to the sheriff everywhere I go.
“It’s an honor to do it.”
Goodman recounted notable moments of history where law enforcement ran towards danger to protect citizens including 9/11. He quoted a witness from the Las Vegas shooting last year who said, “While everyone else was crouching, police officers were standing and running toward the danger. The amount of bravery I saw there I can’t describe.”
He also remembered seeing sheriff’s deputies “pour” out of the courthouse to get to the scene of the Imperial Foods fire in Hamlet, saying, “I had never seen so many people move so fast at one time.”
Goodman said that now is “probably the most challenging time in our history” for police officers because everyone has a video camera in their pockets, and often only capture the aftermath of violent encounters.
“You know, as a police officer, if you have to use force or discharge your service weapon, your life clearly became a lot more complicated and it doesn’t matter how justified it was because some people are going to question your motives or your competence no matter what the facts say,” Goodman said. “Of course, we must acknowledge that police officer misconduct does occur. However, I believe it is rare and the overwhelming majority of officers are dedicated to public service and they spend their careers protecting and serving our community.”
Goodman authored a bill last year that would require driver’s education courses to instruct drivers on how to behave when they interact with a police officer as a way to prevent those situations from escalating and endangering both the driver and officer. Gov. Roy Cooper signed the bill on July 12.
Sgt. Barry Baucom, who joined the Highway Patrol on Feb. 26, asked those in attendance to not just view the bridges named after officers as “landmarks” but as people who made sacrifices in the line of duty.
“As law enforcement officers, you will sometimes be called upon to do the unthinkable, and though you will probably never believe so or see yourself in such a light, you will be heroes in your own right and be called upon to do deeds that few understand or ever appreciate,” Baucom said.
He also quoted John 15:13, which reads: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]