'We're like a huge fam­ily'

New­ton County res­i­dents show sup­port for law en­force­ment

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - SAN­DRA BRANDS sbrands@cov­news.com

Ed­i­tor's note: This is part of an on­go­ing look at crime and law en­force­ment in and around New­ton County by The Cov­ing­ton News.

Ev­ery morn­ing when they put on their badges and hit the street, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers know the chances of com­ing home de­crease.

“We know ev­ery day is un­like any one else’s day,” said New­ton County Sher­iff Ezell Brown. “Once we put on our badge and go out, the pos­si­bil­ity of com­ing back are a lit­tle slim­mer.”

Brown talked to The Cov­ing­ton News at a brunch thrown by Lil’ An­gels Ed­u­care in Cov­ing­ton to honor the New­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, the Cov­ing­ton Po­lice Depart­ments and San­i­ta­tion Depart­ment.

Sup­port for law en­force­ment in the county has risen, and other or­ga­ni­za­tions and ci­ti­zens have been bring­ing gifts of food, send­ing notes of en­cour­age­ment, and post­ing mes­sages of sup­port on Face­book. The re­ac­tion comes on the heels of the re­cent shoot­ings across the na­tion, most re­cently in Ba­ton Rouge, where Gavin Long of Kansas City went on a shoot­ing ram­page, leav­ing three of­fi­cers wounded and two dead last week­end.

Barely two weeks ear­lier, a mil­i­tary vet­eran Micah X. John­son gunned down of­fi­cers dur­ing a demon­stra­tion against po­lice bru­tal­ity, leav­ing five po­lice of­fi­cers dead. The sniper at­tack fol­lowed the killing of Al­ton Ster­ling by a Ba­ton rouge po­lice of­fi­cer, and Phi­lando Castile in Min­neapo­lis. Both in­ci­dents were recorded on film.

The es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence has re­opened painful and much needed dis­cus­sions about racism in the United States. It has also brought an out­pour­ing of sup­port from com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try, leav­ing the ques­tion

where do those con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen?

And while law en­force­ment in New­ton County say they have al­ways been sup­ported by the com­mu­nity, the out­pour­ing of sup­port in the last two weeks has been amaz­ing. COUN­CIL EXPRESSES SUP­PORT

At Mon­day night’s Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil meet­ing, Po­lice Chief Stacey Cot­ton said he had shared some of the mes­sages the depart­ment had re­ceived re­cently. “I think it was an amaz­ing thing, the warmth that’s been wrapped around our of­fi­cers by res­i­dents. This com­mu­nity has wrapped its arms around the Cov­ing­ton Po­lice Depart­ment (CPD). We’ve had pas­tries, break­fasts, lunches, cards … In all my time here, this has been the most ap­pre­ci­a­tion I think we’re re­ceived, even more than on 9/11 and Wash­ing­ton D.C.”

All of the City Coun­cil mem­bers, the city man­ager Leigh Anne Knight and Mayor Ron­nie John­ston ex­pressed their sup­port and concern for CPD. Knight even read a post from Face­book cel­e­brat­ing law en­force­ment, and a let­ter from an­other ci­ti­zen of­fer­ing sup­port.

City Coun­cil Mem­ber Ken­neth Mor­gan, Post 1 West, said he ap­pre­ci­ated all of law en­force­ment across the land. As a former mem­ber of the mil­i­tary, Mor­gan said, “We need to re­al­ize we need to be hum­ble. There has been loss of life, pe­riod, and that’s what we have to look at and that’s what we have to pray for – for the law en­force­ment who lost lives and for vic­tims who lost lives.

“I would like to pub­li­cally say to Chief Cot­ton, I know you are work­ing hard,” he said. “This is a try­ing time for po­lice of­fi­cers and what­ever we can do as a coun­cil, whether it be grief coun­sel­ing or other – let us know so we can help.”

For Mayor Ron­nie John­ston, the in­ci­dents worry him.

“I strug­gle over wor­ry­ing about how I’m go­ing to re­act as mayor when I get a call at 2 a.m. and there’s been an in­ci­dent,” Mayor Ron­nie John­ston said. He thought it would be a good idea to have a prac­tice drill. “I don’t want to make their [po­lice] jobs harder. I want to be a uniter.” A MULTICULTURAL COM­MU­NITY

Ox­ford’s col­lege brings in stu­dents from around the world, many from Asia. Though Ox­ford Col­lege at Emory Univer­sity has its own se­cu­rity depart­ment, the stu­dents in­ter­act with the com­mu­nity, broad­en­ing the cul­tural di­ver­sity in the small town.

“In a small town like ours, ev­ery­one knows ev­ery­one,” Po­lice Chief Dave Har­vey said. “Ci­ti­zens – whether black or white, Asian or His­panic – they know me, they know the of­fi­cers. We’re like a huge fam­ily.”

Har­vey said, like other agencies in the county, the Ox­ford Po­lice have seen an in­crease in ci­ti­zen’s ex­press­ing sup­port.

“A res­i­dent and two kids came up and brought cook­ies,” Har­vey said. “Just about ev­ery time I run into some­one, they shake my hand and say how much they ap­pre­ci­ate the po­lice.

“At the city coun­cil meet­ing [July 11], some of the ci­ti­zens and coun­cil mem­bers said to be care­ful,” Har­vey said. “They ap­pre­ci­ate us.” DO­ING THE RIGHT THING

When Por­terdale Po­lice Chief Ja­son Cripps was sworn in by the Al­covy Cir­cuit Dis­trict At­tor­ney Layla Zon, he said she learned for­ward and said, “Make sure you do the right thing.”

He took that to heart, he said, say­ing if he couldn’t up­hold his pledge the badge, he shouldn’t be in of­fice.

He is aware, how­ever, that what has hap­pened in re­cent weeks “has been ex­tremely up­set­ting and stress­ful.”

How­ever, the com­mu­nity has been very sup­port­ive.

“It’s amaz­ing how the com­mu­nity of Por­terdale sup­ports the po­lice depart­ment,” he said. “It’s stepped up a lit­tle [re­cently]. We’ve had peo­ple come up and thank us and buy us lunch. We had a lady bring us cook­ies the other day; we had a church [visit].”

When he be­came po­lice chief two years ago, Cripps ini­ti­ated pro­grams that in­creased pos­i­tive po­lice vis­i­bil­ity in the com­mu­nity. Dur­ing the sum­mer months, the po­lice hold block par­ties through­out the vil­lage. He thinks those have really helped com­mu­nity-po­lice re­la­tions.

They are also pre­sent at com­mu­nity events, in­clud­ing the re­cent Bike Rodeo they spon­sored with Square Bikes, and some­times join the chil­dren at the Smart Lunch, Smart Kids meals pro­vided by Ac­tion Min­istries.

For Cripps, pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships are es­sen­tial for a small com­mu­nity. He isn’t hes­i­tant to ask peo­ple how they think the Por­terdale po­lice are do­ing, even ask­ing re­cip­i­ents of tick­ets af­ter­wards about the of­fi­cer’s per­for­mance. “Were they em­pa­thetic? Were they po­lite?” he said.

He said he isn’t senses ten­sion in the com­mu­nity.

“Any­one is more than wel­come to come and talk to any of the cops in this depart­ment, whether they are in or out of this vil­lage,” he said. “We are all broth­ers.” START­ING YOUNG

The rea­son Lil’ An­gels Ed­u­care in­vited Cov­ing­ton and New­ton County law en­force­ment to a brunch on Thurs­day was to pro­vide pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences with po­lice and deputies to the chil­dren. It seemed to work.

One of the deputies even joined in a game of kick ball – well, kick bal­loon – with some of the day­care stu­dents.

The brunch is just one ex­am­ple of the sup­port com­ing from the com­mu­nity, said Brown.”

“We’ve had tremen­dous sup­port from all sec­tions of the com­mu­nity,” Brown said. “I’ve been called by mem­bers of faith-based com­mu­nity lead­ers. Some churches have prayed over me – that was very up­lift­ing [since] I am a be­liever.

“What’s very shock­ing is to be in bed at 2 a.m. and – this is ev­i­dence there’s love, there’s com­pas­sion in this com­mu­nity – get a call from a spir­i­tual leader say­ing, ‘I’m pray­ing for you and for the depart­ment.’”

The call was fol­lowed al­most im­me­di­ately by a text from an­other leader in a dif­fer­ent faith com­mu­nity tex­ting a mes­sage of sup­port.”

He said the brunch was an ex­am­ple of the sup­port the New­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice (NCSO) has re­ceived. Though the sup­port from the com­mu­nity has been strong in the past, the re­cent in­crease has been very much needed and ap­pre­ci­ated.

“I will ac­knowl­edge this has been very dif­fi­cult for law en­force­ment,” he said. “We’ve seen more loss of life since 9/11. It’s sad. We’ve been on both sides of the spec­trum [be­ing in law en­force­ment and be­ing African-Amer­i­can], but New­ton County is a great com­mu­nity.”

He said deputies are com­fort­able with “what we do each and ev­ery day. I don’t feel any of them are op­er­at­ing out of fear.”

He said he had a conversation on Wednesday with his lead­ers in the NCSO, say­ing he al­ways deals with peo­ple with dig­nity and love and stresses that with his of­fi­cers.

“We all need prayer,” he said. “This is one time we should all be, in our own way, held in prayer.”

Ci­ti­zens – whether black or white, Asian or His­panic – they know me, they know the of­fi­cers. We’re like a huge fam­ily.” — Dave Har­vey, Po­lice Chief

Bryan Fazio | The Cov­ing­ton News

Lil' An­gels Ed­u­care in Cov­ing­ton is just one ex­am­ple of groups and ci­ti­zens show­er­ing law en­force­ment in the county and its mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties with sup­port, praise and good­ies. Last Thurs­day, the day care in­vited mem­bers of the New­ton County Sher­iff's Of­fice, Cov­ing­ton Po­lice Depart­ment and the Cov­ing­ton San­i­ta­tion Depart­ment to thank them for their ser­vice.

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