A moving ceremony in Rock Creek Park Monday honored law enforcement officers in Tennessee and across the nation on the second day of National Police Week.
Lewisburg Police Chief Chuck Forbis, assisted by Lieutenant Rebekah Mitchell, arranged the first-ever event in the park to recognize officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
“Hopefully we can make it a tradition,” said Forbis. He said that there used to be a ceremony at the memorial stone on the courthouse lawn, but even that had not been done in recent years.
“This is long overdue,” former county commission chairman Tom Sumners commented after the well-organized event.
The Columbia Police Color Guard presented the American and Tennessee flags, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, the Marshall County High School chorus sang the national anthem, and Rev. Steve Thomas, one of the police chaplains, led the invocation.
Both mayors, Bob Phillips and Joe Boyd Liggett, spoke a few words and read the proclamations they had signed that declared May 10-16 Police Week in Lewisburg and Marshall County.
“You put your life on the line every time you go on duty,” said Phillips, recognizing the danger that police personnel face every day.
“To lose someone affects every family in our community,” added Liggett, acknowledging the fact that most local officers have close ties to the community.
Police chaplain Rev. Tom Dumser told the crowd that, on average, 110-140 policemen per year in America die in the course of doing their duties.
“In the midst of regular activities, they become a sacrifice,” Dumser said. “You deserve the applause of a grateful community,” he told the city and county officers present, concluding, “You do not go into that valley of the shadow of death alone.”
The keynote speaker was Trina Scott, president of the Middle and East Tennessee Concerns of Police Survivors (METNCOPS). Her husband, Patrolman David John Scott of the Clarksville Police Department, died with his rookie partner, Patrolman Yamil Baez-Santiago during a high speed chase of an armed robbery suspect in 2002.
“My husband died doing what he took an oath to do and doing what he loved,” Scott said. She was left to raise their four daughters, then ages 16, 10, 6, and 4, and has been very active in METNCOPS, which Forbis called “a valuable resource.” It provides support, services and training in dealing with line-of-duty deaths for police departments and police families.
“There is no greater way to honor these officers than to tell their stories – how they died and how they lived,” said Scott. In 2008, 134 American officers lost their lives, including Grundy County Deputy Sheriff Anthony Shane Tate and Sumner County Deputy Sheriff Brian DeWayne Denning.
“We will never be ‘normal,’” said Scott, explaining what it is like to be a survivor. “We look at things totally differently. Survivors never have closure. We’ll get through it; we won’t get over it.”
Already in 2009 there are 46 more law enforcement families dealing with what Scott calls “the empty firsts:” family events taking place for the first time without the loved one present.
Marshall County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Billy Lamb told the grim statistics: in America, on average, 164 law enforcement officers are killed every year, and 17,000 are injured.
Caleb Boone, bugler, played “Taps,” and then Pam Wells and Phil Blackwell, relatives of Billy Blackwell, Lewisburg’s officer who was fatally shot while answering a call, brought the wreath forward.
Finally, bagpiper Sarah Keller performed “Amazing Grace” and Rev. Shaun Grant, the third police chaplain, read the “Law Officer’s Prayer.”
The local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police cooked hamburgers and hotdogs, and a generous lunch was enjoyed in the Farmers Market Pavilion.