'We're like a huge family'
Newton County residents show support for law enforcement
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
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.