The news has been filled with tragic events involving officers purposely being shot in the line of duty, most recently in Dallas and Baton Rouge, but local law enforcement is seeing a surge in community support for their service.
Thursday morning, members from the Boys & Girls Clubs of West Central Missouri downtown CLUB site visited the Sedalia Police Department to drop off cookies, candy, bottles of Gatorade and a large handmade card to offer their support to local law enforcement. They also made a trip to the Sedalia Fire Department Headquarters with the same gifts.
“With all the things going on, the kids are aware, it’s on TV. When I asked for volunteers (to visit SPD and SFD), they all wanted to come. It’s important to them to show support to (law enforcement),” said CLUB Site Manager Vicki Hart.
SPD Chief John DeGonia said the department has received an “extremely large outpouring” of support including cards, letters, food and people stopping by to let officers know they are praying for them and their safety. By Thursday afternoon, they’d already had five groups stop by the station.
“Usually the silent majority supports us, well that majority’s not silent anymore, we can tell,” DeGonia said. “We’ve always had support, but now the silent people that always support us are coming out and showing appreciation and their support. It’s humbling. I’ve heard several officers (Thursday) say it’s humbling. … When you come back here and you read those things and see those things, it makes a big difference in your day.”
DeGonia said they’ve seen an increase in support since the fatal incident in Dallas a few weeks ago. Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said his office has also seen a “tremendous outpouring of support” such as letters and cards that Bond has displayed in the office for all officers to see each day.
“Businesses, individuals, groups and organizations have made contact with us, many of the people we’ve come into contact with, both myself and deputies, have expressed support of law enforcement in our community,” Bond said. “There are several events in the planning stages to be able to honor and thank the local law enforcement and emergency services workers for what they do in our community.”
Local officers are honoring the fallen officers by wearing a black band around their badges, something DeGonia said started nationwide after the Dallas incident and was extended after Baton Rouge.
Some SPD officers said they’re noticing the little things more, such as people waving as they drive by on patrol.
“The officer, Montrell Jackson, who got killed in Baton Rouge, he wrote a long thing (on Facebook a few days before he was killed) about how he was feeling during the whole thing. He said he loved the city he worked for, but he didn’t know if they loved him back,” said SPD Officer Larry Parham. “It’s nice to see that so many people, the silent majority, actually do care about us and want us here. We don’t normally hear that until something bad happens.”
Just a few minutes before talking with the Democrat, Parham accepted a cake on behalf of the department in the station lobby from a woman he’d never met.
“There are people I’ve never seen before in town and then there’s the ones we see all the time in a bad way, so it’s nice to meet those folks. (The woman in the lobby) gave me a hug and I’ve never seen her before,” Parham said. “… Some kids the other day, we were walking to the police car getting ready to go on a call and a car drove by. Some kids were in the backseat and they rolled down the window and said ‘Be safe!’ That’s cool stuff.”
Many agencies across the country are starting to double up officers in a patrol car to utilize safety in numbers, but SPD and the sheriff’s office don’t have the manpower to do so. Instead, DeGonia said if a SPD officer is on a call, another patrol officer will drive through the neighborhood and check on the officer and offer assistance if needed.
“We’re checking on each other more than we were,” he said.
“This movement is not something that happened overnight, even though we’re seeing ramifications in Dallas and Baton Rouge that have occurred in quick succession,” Bond said. “The reality is that really (the sheriff’s office has) modified the things we’ve been doing and remaining vigilant and alert all the way back since Ferguson.”
Both Bond and DeGonia offered their thanks to the community for the recent support, with Bond noting it solidifies what they already knew about the Sedalia/Pettis County community.
“We’re hearing a lot more positive, people coming up to us and thanking us for our service and what we do,” DeGonia said. “Again, the silent majority always have, but now those people are speaking up and saying thank you, they appreciate us and we’re in their prayers. We’re seeing that a lot more.
“Of course there are those people that don’t care for the police, but that’s OK. Our job is to protect their rights, same as everybody else’s. We’re protecting their right to have their opinion and think what they want of us and that’s what we do. We don’t decide whose rights we’re going to defend, we defend everyone’s rights.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.