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Looking at cops and firefighters

By Staff
Sept. 30, 2001
I've been looking at cops, deputies and firefighters since Sept. 11. I mean really looking at them. Trying to see the people not just the uniforms.
I belong to a generation taught to respect those uniforms, but our understanding of who these people were also included the certain knowledge that they would help you if you needed it. Mothers taught their children, "If you get lost, look for a policeman. Look for a man with a badge on his chest. Look for a man with a gun on his hip."
Even as adults, we know what to do in an emergency. Dial 911. Call for a firefighter. He'll collapse from smoke inhalation trying to save your home. Dial 911. Call for a cop. He'll come and cope with whatever dangerous situation is going on at your house. "Protect and serve" is the motto and, if necessary, he'll die in your front yard protecting and serving.
Just as they did by the hundreds in New York City cops and firefighters running toward that which could not possibly be real.
It is ironic, then, that many of the cops and firefighters in our town don't feel respected. I wonder what makes them feel that way.
Citizens have always been supportive, in general, and the recent horror shows in New York City and Washington have only made them more so. Several Meridian police officers have told me people are stopping them in the street just to say "thanks."
I happened to be at the sheriff's department on Friday when a group of schoolchildren came calling. They had already been to the police department. The children had a handmade "thank you" card for Sheriff Billy Sollie and his department, some stickers and a tin of cookies.
They had their picture taken standing proudly with the sheriff, who gravely told them that he had a meeting with his officers coming up and that he would pass their card around so everyone could see it and share his cookies with the deputies "if they are very good."
The tradition of respect continues, and the circle is unbroken with a new generation. So why is the Meridian Police Department chronically understaffed? Why is morale at an all-time low? Why does the sheriff beg for money for more deputies every year? Why do law enforcement agencies have trouble getting and keeping good officers?
I believe it's because words are not enough. America is a capitalistic society, and one of the ways you show your respect for a worker is in what you pay him. We don't pay law enforcement officers enough to stay, and staying in spite of it makes a good many of them feel disrespected and wears them out as too few officers rush from one call to the next trying to keep the bases covered.
I no longer believe the rhetoric from local governing bodies that, "The people just won't tolerate a tax increase." Maybe they don't want millions of dollars spent on renovating depots, creating downtown parks and building multi-purpose facilities but I bet there are many who would support a tax increase to make us all safer by paying for cops, deputies and firefighters.
Quick takes: What's
happening with …
The sentencing hearing for Comcast defendants Kim Gianakos and C.D. "Bubba" Newell? Still suspended indefinitely.
The sentencing hearing for Comcast defendant David Van Colvin? Re-scheduled for Sept. 27, and then canceled and suspended indefinitely reportedly because government prosecutors want his hearing to take place after the Gianakos and Newell hearings.
State Auditor Phil Bryant's investigation into money allegedly embezzled from "honor box" parking fees at the Meridian Regional Airport? "Still ongoing," said spokesman Pete Smith, "and we can't comment on pending investigations."
Possible criminal charges against two former employees who allegedly stole money from the Meridian Police Department's front desk? My best guess is that the findings of an investigation being conducted by Capt. Betty Evans will be presented directly to a Lauderdale County grand jury in November, with no arrest coming before then.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3229, or e-mail her at smonk@themeridianstar.com.

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