Lawmen perform thankless duty

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 2, 2004

Last week’s attempted murder of two local deputies by a suspect simply wanted for questioning proves as a grim reminder of the dangers faced on an everyday basis by members of our local law enforcement branches.

The job performed by lawmen is greatly overlooked and taken for granted by those they are sworn to protect and serve. Perhaps not until they are needed to intervene in a crisis situation, or maybe something as simple as answering a loud music complaint, are they complimented for the work they perform.

Sure, they receive compensation for the service they render, but whatever meager salary they earn isn’t enough to make the pain and suffering go away when a family grieves over the loss of a law enforcement officer killed or seriously injured while in the line of duty. That &uot;pain&uot; begins every time they holster-up their service revolver, pin on the badge and vanish from the sight of loved ones in order to begin their shift. No one knows, including the officer, if this will be the last time they see member of their family.

Personally speaking, I admire the job performed by our local law enforcement officers. I’m not just saying that to earn &uot;brownie points&uot; and perhaps wiggle out of a speeding ticket – if I break the law, I expect to be punished befitting the crime. I’ve personally witnessed the professionalism and fairness doled out by our town policemen, sheriff’s deputies, Task Force agents, Highway Patrol troopers and SBI agents.

What makes our area so special in regards to law enforcement is the way they work in unison. I have been around the newspaper business long enough to realize that law enforcement agencies sometimes tend to be a bit &uot;clannish&uot; – simply meaning they prefer to take care of their own territory and not make it their business to look after the welfare of citizens residing outside of their little area.

That’s not the case here in the Roanoke-Chowan region. Time after time I’ve seen officers from one department rush to help their counterparts in another jurisdiction. Such was the case on Wednesday night of last week when a deputy from each the Bertie County and Hertford County sheriff’s offices, working in tandem to solve a rash of breaking and entering incidents in the two-county area, were shot at by a suspect in the case.

Mind you, this guy was just a suspect. No warrants had been drawn for his arrest. The deputies, using information at their disposal, had developed him as a possible suspect and simply wanted to ask him a few questions. Instead, they were forced to duck bullets; their lives spared by the fact that the suspect apparently lacked marksmanship skills.

Ahoskie, Aulander, Murfreesboro and Windsor police departments rushed officers to the scene of the shooting, located a short distance outside of Powellsville. Bertie Sheriff Greg Atkins and additional manpower from his office made their way to the incident area. Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan ordered in additional help. The North Carolina Highway Patrol sent troopers to the scene and later summoned their helicopter from Kinston to make a beeline to Bertie County and launch an aerial search for the suspect, who had fled into a heavily wooded area after firing at the deputies.

In addition, members of the Roanoke-Chowan Narcotics Task Force sent agents to aid in the search. Even the Bertie County office of the North Carolina Forest Service brought in maps of the search area to help those on the ground and in air locate the suspect.

And why did these men, the majority of which were all warm and cozy at home on a cold winter night, choose to brave the icy conditions to answer a call for help? Sure, two of their cohorts had miraculously survived a brush with death, but a gunman remained on the loose, one that posed an immediate and grave danger to anyone that may have innocently crossed his path.

In other words, they responded so they could do anything within their power to make sure those living within an earshot of that gunfire, and even those outside that range, were safe and secure. Apprehending and incarcerating this suspect in the quickest possible time was their top priority.

I feel safe knowing our local law enforcement agencies are out protecting my family. I hope you feel just as secure. If you do, make it a point the next time you see a local officer that you extend your hand and offer thanks.