Officers build bond with residents

Published 3:38 pm Saturday, July 9, 2016

Photo by Amy Rhoads/Community members gathered Friday at the flagpole in front of the Brookhaven Police Department to pray for the five officers in Dallas who were killed Thursday night by a sniper.

Photo by Amy Rhoads/Community members gathered Friday at the flagpole in front of the Brookhaven Police Department to pray for the five officers in Dallas who were killed Thursday night by a sniper.

The morning after a sniper gunned down five Dallas police officers and injured seven others during an anti-police protest, local law enforcement officers gathered to pray for the men and their families as well as the Brookhaven Police Department, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and the community.

About 30 officers and deputies along with a few individuals held hands at the flagpole at the police department Friday and prayed for peace and unity.

“It just came on my heart that we needed to meet and pray for our colleagues over there,” Police Chief Bobby Bell said Friday. “They were just doing their job and they were killed doing their job.”

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Residents brought meals and snacks to the police department and sheriff’s office throughout the day as a way to show appreciation to the law enforcement officers.

“People are proud of us,” Bell said. “The people in our community are concerned for us.”

Sheriff Steve Rushing said his office was filled with food gifts from well-meaning residents.

“It’s great to know our community supports us that well,” he said. “It’s been very nice of everybody to remember us and show their appreciation of us.”

Bell said that it’s more difficult to be a police officer in Brookhaven now than it was a few years ago.

If a call involves two people, more than one officer is required to respond.

And those officers wear body cams on their uniforms to record the interaction. “It’s not just for the officers’ safety. It’s for the community’s safety also,” he said.

“The people in the community need to know the only thing they need to do is follow orders. If we ask for your drivers license, just give us your drivers license. Put your hands on the steering wheel when you’re stopped. Don’t make any sudden movements. If you’ve got to go to your glove box and get your proof of insurance, let the officer know that’s where your proof of insurance is and that’s what you’re getting. It’s all about communicating.”

Bell’s department includes 32 officers, though he hopes to hire another seven soon.

Officers are encouraged to stop during patrols and visit with residents. He said it helps the officers earn the respect of the community. “I preach to my officers all the time to get out and communicate with people in our community and let them know that you are there for them,” he said. “We have a pretty good working relationship with our community. We haven’t been threatened in any way.”

Bell also wants his officers to spend more time interacting positively with the youth in Brookhaven, but doesn’t have the resources or the time to do it as much as he’d like.

The number of calls officers must respond to during each shift is on the rise, he said.

“Eight years ago, we wouldn’t get over 100 complaints in a month. Now, from January to July 1, we’ve had 8,640 complaints. We’re not like your bigger cities. We respond to every call we get,” he said.

The sheriff said his deputies also spend time with residents to strengthen the bond between protectors and protected.

“We’ve always tried to be a community-oriented agency, working with our community,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of great folks who live here. We all try to work together.”

The LCSO includes 20 deputies as well as support staff.

Two deputies respond to domestic calls or any situation that has the potential for violence, he said.

They try to handle situations without force if possible.

“We try to work together to resolve the issues, but at the same time we have a job to do,” he said.

Most of the patrol cars have cameras, but not the deputies. “We haven’t been able to afford body cameras. I wouldn’t mind having them but we haven’t had the funds to have them,” he said.

Rushing said he was heartbroken at the news of the Dallas police slayings.

“I know there are issues that go on across our country but resorting to violence has never been the issue for solving it,” he said. “To see officers gunned down for no reason is very disturbing, very heartbreaking.”

Bell said he was touched by the outpouring of love from the community Friday and recalled one woman in particular who brought doughnuts to the station just before they gathered to pray at the flagpole.

“There was a lady there this morning, she was bringing doughnuts. She’s a citizen,” he said. “She got in the circle with us. I had to walk her back there. She was crying like a baby.

“It’s like the hometown sign says, this is a Homeseekers’ Paradise. We look out for each other, especially when crisis hits us. We come together.”