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Texas church raises money for local officers

By Jack Douglas Jr.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH, Texas — Not long after three police officers in the West Texas town of Odessa were gunned down, a newspaper reported that the rest of the force is underpaid, especially considering the risks they have to take. That's when the Rev. Don Caywood said he had a "stirring of the heart" and asked his 2,000 church members to consider giving money to the men and women in uniform.

The collection, as well as money from a church "giving" account, came to $145,000 - or $1,000 for each of the 145 officers in the Odessa Police Department.

"I was shocked," said Cpl. Sherrie Carruth, a 15-year veteran. Carruth said that she and her husband, Robert, who is also a police officer, learned of their total gift of $2,000 while watching the evening news Sunday.

"We heard that and just looked at each other and said, `Oh, my gosh,'" she said, adding that the extra money will help them buy a house and feed their three sons, who are "eating us out of house and home."

The unexpected gift from Odessa Christian Faith Center, founded by Caywood 26 years ago, was a good start to 2008 after a bad year for Odessa police.

Cpls. Adie Jones, 48; John "Scott" Gardner, 30; and Abel Marquez, 32, were shot to death Sept. 8 while responding to a domestic disturbance. Larry Neil White, 58, is awaiting trial after being indicted on three counts of capital murder.

"It was tragic that we had to lose three of our fellow officers. But right now, we're trying to move forward," Carruth said.

Caywood said he was already moved by the officers' deaths when, a month later, he read in the Odessa American newspaper that the town's police force is short-staffed and underpaid compared with similar-size departments elsewhere in Texas.

"I read those articles, and it stirred my heart" to collect the donations, said Caywood, adding that he talked with the city attorney, city manager and mayor to ensure that the money was not misconstrued as a bribe. The church gets nothing in return, he said, adding, "We just wanted to be a blessing to these men and women."

The starting yearly salary for Odessa officers is $35,724, which City Manager Richard Morton called "competitive" but still a "little less" than what rookie officers get in neighboring Midland.

Morton said officer pay became an issue because of the officers' deaths. "No one's paid enough," he said, "when you put your life on the line."

Copyright 2008 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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