“The profession isn’t what it used to be.” That is what a veteran officer recently told me as he was describing the once-perceived tight-knit “esprit de corps” that existed within law enforcement.
What did I know? I’ve been in this profession for more than 18 years and frankly, I’ve met some great officers. Sure, I’ve also been around some that probably need to be in another profession, but I have always believed in the institution of law enforcement. Admittedly, there are some bad days, but if I had a bad day every day until retirement, the good days certainly outnumber them.
Was it really better in the past? Did we take care of each other and have each other’s back more than today? I suppose it depends on the context of that question. I believe the thin blue wall of silence is not so silent anymore (and that is a good thing) but what about the family of law enforcement? Do we truly see each other as brothers and sisters behind the badge as we did many years ago?
Some would say the new generation is the “me” generation and our profession could never maintain the positive qualities that so many speak of from the past but I am here to proclaim something else to you. I have seen with my own eyes what law enforcement is about today and if you are in the profession, you have a right to be proud.
On May 22, 2011, I woke up from a rare nap and prepared to go to work the graveyard shift. I noticed several texts on my phone and it didn’t take long to find out what from. An EF5 Tornado had struck Joplin, Missouri and it was described as a “direct hit” to the city. Joplin is just more than 100 miles from me and the concerns ran deep for the community and the officers responding to the scene.
With wind speeds over 200 mph, an EF5 Tornado is the most deadly and just a few weeks prior I stood in Hackleburg, Alabama speaking with their Police Chief, Kenny Hallmark. I had travelled to Alabama following an EF5 that struck that town on April 27, 2011, and I was there representing Ten-Four Ministries and a newly formed Disaster Relief Team designed to go to disaster areas and specifically help the law enforcement officers and their family.
We learned a lot in Alabama, including that while many volunteers and organizations go to disasters, there was not anyone specifically there in the early stages to assist law enforcement with much needed resources such as uniforms, boots, gloves, etc. to do their jobs. I listened as Chief Hallmark discussed the guilt he felt knowing that because of his job, he could not attend to the needs of his family.
My experience in Alabama was on my mind as I pondered how I could help. The response of area officers was unbelievable and within the first few days, the Joplin Police Department actually discouraged additional officers from responding but I knew there was more that could be done.
From the devastation I knew that officers had lost homes and would be experiencing similar frustrations as Chief Hallmark and his officers experienced but how could I help? We had just returned from Alabama and the bank account wasn’t exactly full and then a good friend and fellow law enforcement officer called me.
“We need to partner on this” exclaimed Overland Park (Mo.) Corporal Scott Barthelmass. I had known Scott for many years and we shared a similar passion for officer safety. I had just interviewed Scott on a weekly radio show about the Missouri Law Enforcement Funeral Assistance Team that he founded and I knew that when Scott got an idea that it wasn’t long before results were seen.
PoliceOne Steps In
Just three days after the devastation, Doug Wyllie, the Editor of Police One, announced the “Adopt a Cop” program that Scott called me about. The Missouri Law Enforcement Funeral Assistance Team and Ten-Four Ministries would combine efforts to raise funds specifically for the officers in the Joplin area who lost their homes or sustained major damage. It was a daunting task. Twenty-two law enforcement officers and 13 employees with the Joplin Police Department, Carthage Police Department, and the Jasper County Sheriffs Office had lost homes or sustained major damage.
In addition, requests for uniforms, boots, gloves and a variety of other items came pouring in almost every hour and each time the request was made, PoliceOne placed the update on their website and it became apparent that law enforcement was indeed a family.
Officers from across the country began shipping items to the Joplin area to help their brothers and sisters behind the badge. Whether it was uniforms or toys for the children of the officers, the response was amazing and it wasn’t just items being sent. Law enforcement across the country gave over $13,000 to those affected with Horace Small Uniforms donating $5,000.
A few weeks later, I went to the Joplin area and personally gave many of those affected the funds that were raised through the efforts of Doug Wyllie and PoliceOne. I met Joplin Detective William Davis who was so instrumental in giving us detailed information on the needs of the officers. He immediately took me to the area where they were storing items sent to them from other officers. It was amazing to see the clothes, uniforms, boots and even a great gently used leather jacket that other officers from around the country sent to the Joplin area officers. Most of them wanted to remain anonymous and none of them cared for any credit but I must tell you they deserve a lot.
I wish I could have somehow showed everyone what I saw that day in Joplin. These men and women have endured so much and they were so thankful and that thanks was to you, the PoliceOne Family.
Just before I left, I met a K-9 Officer that had lost his home. I handed him a check and told him that many from PoliceOne had sent funds to help him. He was embarrassed and said that it had been a struggle and he had yet to receive any assistance from his insurance company. He was almost apologetic as he took the funds and I told him that he shouldn’t be upset.
“You would do the same for me,” I told him. I have no doubt after this experience that his response is true for not only him but for our entire profession.
He said he would do whatever was needed if tragedy struck other officers and for a few weeks in May I saw firsthand what you would do and for that I am forever grateful.