Hero title applies to local law officers
Not many people would admit this publicly in the South, where hunting is a birthright and way of life, but I haven't shot a gun since I was 12 years old. And that was a .22 caliber rifle at Camp Grady Spruce, a summer camp on Possum Kingdom Lake in Texas.
There is a group of brave men and women who face the possibility of using their firearms daily, though, often under circumstances they never imagined possible when they drove to work in the morning. I'm referring to our public safety officers, both on the local and state level, who on Monday evening and Tuesday morning were confronted with a situation they had trained for, but spent a career hoping they would never encounter.
On Monday afternoon, officers responded to what they probably thought was going to be a fairly routine nuisance call, if you can consider someone shooting at passing motorists routine. They probably never imagined that before the evening was through they would become targets themselves. Despite a lengthy attempt to end the situation peacefully, it took a tragic turn in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Officers, deputies and troopers are aware that the jobs they do can place them in harm's way at any point. Yet day after day they patrol our streets and answer our calls of distress.
More often than not, these men and women are on the receiving end of our contempt as they try to slow us down on the roads, or cite us for not wearing our seatbelts. While protecting us from ourselves is an important part of the job, they also rush to our aid in our own personal times of need, endangering themselves in the process of protecting us.
Unless you've been under fire, you cannot possibly know what goes through the minds of those who have. We can't know how we would react, although we're usually pretty sure of ourselves as we share coffee with friends, discussing incidents like the one this week. Until faced with the situation, though, it would be hard to know exactly what we'd do. Add to that the possibility that in addition to trying to stay out of harm's way, the only way to resolve the situation could be through lethal force and you have a pretty stressful situation.
Many of us go home at the end of the day feeling that we're underpaid and overworked. Public safety officers are probably no different. Add to those feelings ones of under-appreciation and misunderstanding, and you probably get closer to how the brave men and women that serve us feel on a daily basis. That's unfortunate, because as Monday and Tuesday reminded us all too clearly, they literally put their lives on the line trying to protect the public.
Many communities, including our own, have introduced citizen police academies in an attempt to educate the public about what's involved in running a police department and what type of situations officers face during the course of a shift. Many youth groups tour local jails, getting a first hand look at what lies ahead if they run afoul of the law. All the classroom lectures and tours can hardly prepare you for some of the situations officers face in the field, though. Until a person has actually ridden on a patrol, answered a distress call or stopped a vehicle on a dark street, it's hard to comprehend just how helpless and isolated an officer can feel during the course of his or her day.
While we all would have hoped for a different ending to this week's standoff, one thing is certain. We are fortunate to have a group of men and women who are willing to put their own personal safety aside in order to protect us. A lot has been made of the word "heroes" over the past year. That term certainly applies, day in and day out, to the men and women who make up the police and sheriff's departments right here Escambia County.
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