By Jim Manfre
It was the best time of the week–Saturday morning. No school and plenty of cartoons on TV. I was seven. There was a knock on the door in the late morning that led my Mom, pregnant with my younger sister, to answer. It was a man in a blue uniform, a police officer. He asked to come in to speak to my Mom. Very slowly, or so it seemed, he delivered the words that would change our lives forever.
Your husband has been in an accident with a drunk driver. He will live, but he is seriously injured.
Over the next several weeks that officer came to our home several times to make sure my Mom was OK. It took several weeks before my Dad could return home, but the officer came to check on him as well.
We all have our first impressions of a police officer or deputy. For some it was police shows such as Dragnet, Mayberry RFD, CSI or the countless other shows or movies that highlight the humorous, the serious or the violent side of law enforcement. For others, it was actual contact with law enforcement either good or bad. Clearly, we all have our opinions of law enforcement based on our point of view, experiences and upbringing. Mine was frozen in time by that first experience and stays with me today. Law enforcement is there to protect and serve.
The role of law enforcement has changed dramatically in the 48 years since that Saturday morning. It has changed from being a keeper of the peace and traffic control to being a grief, marriage, mental health, alcohol and drug counselor, an accident reconstruction, ballistics, DNA, forensics, hazardous and bomb materials expert, a school, courthouse and inmate security officer, a mentor, educator and recreational adviser to our youth, a member of a SWAT, K-9, bike, boat, animal control, agricultural, narcotics, undercover and detective unit, a first responder and assistant, if required, to medical and fire calls and, in the last ten years, a part of homeland security and anti- terrorist efforts.
All of these duties are conducted under the constant pressure of at times violent reactions from suspects. They’re all carried out in tandem with the danger of driving hour after hour on local roads (traffic related incidents cause more injuries to law enforcement than any other event), and the wearying 24-hour shift schedule that plays havoc with family life.
No one is complaining of these additional duties. We have all gone into this profession with the knowledge of these issues and duties. In fact many embrace this profession because of its importance to the community in the face of these dangers. It seems important and relevant to address these issues when, as a nation, we observe National Police Week in Washington, D.C., May 12-18. Also, it has been ten years when, during my first term, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office lost Deputy Chuck Sease on July 5, 2003. He was placing stop sticks on I-95 while attempting to stop an out of control drunk driver. He was the first law enforcement officer to be killed in the line of duty in 75 years in Flagler County.
There is no worse duty for law enforcement executive than to have to go to the door of the fallen officer’s home and tell a spouse and loved ones of the passing of the officer or deputy. This message may seem especially meaningful in light of the death of Sean A. Collier, the young campus police officer murdered on the MIT campus while pursuing the two Boston terrorists.
Regardless of your present personal feelings towards law enforcement and all first responders for that matter, in light of National Police Week and the incredible actions of the Boston Police Department, the military, the FBI and other assisting agencies, please take time to appreciate the daily efforts of law enforcement in your community. Perhaps just a thank you when you come in contact with Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies and Flagler Beach and Bunnell police officers over the next two weeks. Remember, they ensure the freedom inherited from two hundred years of patriots, freedoms we too often take for granted.
If you have any problem recognizing a law enforcement officer, they are the ones running towards trouble when everyone else is running away. Thank you to all past and present officers and deputies for your dedication to a job that is so integral to our way of life.
Jim Manfre is the Flagler County Sheriff. Reach him by email here.
Peace Officer Memorial Day, every May 15, was created in 1962 and signed into law by President John F. Kennedy to remind the public of the dangers and sacrifices of America’s law enforcement officers. National Police Week was to be anchored each year around that date. Below is the original proclamation.