January 9 was National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. The annual observance aims to remind us of the constant dangers facing our police, deputies and other public safety officers.
A much more sobering reminder came just one week later, on January 16, when a York County sheriff’s detective was slain while pursuing an armed domestic violence suspect. Officer Mike Doty, 37, was laid to rest the following Monday. Three other officers were wounded by gunfire during the pursuit but are recovering, according to media reports.
The news about Officer Doty was heartbreaking, but all too familiar.
Last year, four S.C. law enforcement officers were killed while on duty. In April, Spartanburg Police Officer Jason Gregory Harris lost his life when his department motorcycle crashed while he was responding to a call. In June, Anderson County Deputy Devin Pressley Hodges died in a boating accident while participating in a marine patrol training exercise. In October, S.C. Highway Patrolman Daniel Keith Rebman Jr. died in a line-of-duty collision on I-385 in Greenville County. In December, Cpl. James Eric Chapman of the Johnston Police Department in Edgefield County lost his life following the crash of his vehicle while on a call.
In March 2016, Greenville Police Officer Allen Lee Jacobs was shot to death while approaching a known gang member to conduct a field interview.
In September 2015, Forest Acres Police Officer Greg Alia was shot to death by a man he was pursuing during a suspicious-person investigation. In November 2015, Columbia Police Officer Stacy Lynn Case was killed in a traffic accident while responding to a call.
In September 2014, Charleston County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph John Matuskovic was shot and killed and two other deputies were wounded after knocking on the door of a man that neighbors complained was causing a disturbance. In October 2014, Patrolman Robert Blajszczak of the Summerville Police Department collapsed while making a traffic stop, passing away six days later. In November 2014, Clarendon County Sheriff’s Deputy Holmes Nathaniel Smith Jr. died when he crashed his department cruiser after having a heart attack while on duty.
The men and women of law enforcement have perhaps the most challenging, stressful, and dangerous job there is. They literally risk their lives every day to protect the lives of people they do not know – frequently working long hours for little pay. And of course, they often don’t receive the appreciation they certainly deserve.
We all know or can imagine the feeling: We see blue lights, we pull over, and we think more about the inconvenience and cost of being stopped than we do about the noble service being performed by the officer. That’s normal, but it’s a shame. While it may seem like a routine traffic stop, the officers are never truly sure what awaits them.
Yet every day brave men and women suit up, get into their cruisers, and go wherever a dispatcher sends them – knowing that, in the blink of an eye, even a routine call could turn tragic.
I asked some law enforcement friends how people can meaningfully show their appreciation. Here are three suggestions:
• If you have a positive experience with local law enforcement, share your story – whether on social media or by writing a letter to the local newspaper. Especially now, after so much attention has been paid to controversial issues related to police, it’s important for us to do our part to make the positive things shine through.
• Get involved in programs that benefit officers, either through volunteer efforts or by donating money. Heroes in Blue (HeroesInBlue.net) is a nonprofit organization founded by Kassy Alia, the widow of slain officer Greg Alia, that supports the law enforcement community and raises funds for the families of fallen officers. In-Vest USA (InVestUSA.org) is a national nonprofit based in S.C. which helps equip officers with life-saving body armor. Or perhaps your community has an Adopt-a-Cop program or similar worthy cause.
• If you’re grateful, by all means let them know. Say a heart-felt “thank you” each time you come in contact with an officer. A little appreciation can go a long way.
Law enforcement officers routinely serve with more courage than most of us could muster. They neither expect nor require our appreciation, but Officer Doty’s sacrifice was yet another reminder of the tremendous debt of gratitude they’re due.
Richard Eckstrom is a CPA and the state’s Comptroller.