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Column: ‘Thank you for your service’

BY PAT GALLAGHER

VIRGINIA BEACH — Service is the act of helping another person. Librarians, store clerks and tollbooth collectors all perform important services, though it may simply be part of one’s job description.  The local farmer who grows the food we eat or the operator who dredges the waterways both perform meaningful and important services, too.

We take for granted the service that others provide us because they are either unseen or we feel it is simply part of their job to provide that service to us.

Some of us remember the treatment of Vietnam veterans when they returned home from their service. Some misguided citizens in the antiwar movement blamed veterans for policies enacted by politicians. Soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen were treated with disrespect, disdain, hostility and hatred.

Today, many Americans who may not support a war choose not to blame the people in uniform but those sending service members to fight. Instead of insults, our veterans are treated with respect.

“Thank you for your service,” people say.

Over the past several years, members of America’s law enforcement community have experienced a similar resentment to that endured by many of our veterans. 

Many Americans hold similar respect for law enforcement officers as they have for members of the military. The reasons why American law enforcement officers, including sheriff’s deputies, are treated in a similar manner as members of the military are interesting.

Professionals in both fields represent the spirit of true sacrifice. Both run towards danger while others are running away. They put others before themselves, and both have committed to the protection of their country and community. The greatest difference between these groups is that the military consists of those trained to be warriors while law enforcement officers are trained to be guardians.

Unfortunately, police officers and deputies have faced increased public criticism, scorn and hostility. Protesters have chanted “Pigs in a blanket – fry ‘em like bacon” and “What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now!” Many Americans are disgusted by such language. And, to be clear, many who share the belief that policing reforms are necessary also condemn unproductive, violent language.

Not many citizens are willing to place themselves on the front lines defending our freedoms. To do so requires a type of commitment that is unlike most any other in our country.

I’m not suggesting the butcher, baker or candlestick maker doesn’t deserve gratitude for their work. I am suggesting that members of the law enforcement community deserve thanks for their service. There are not many other professions with a job description that includes the possibility of sacrificing one’s life for another.

The death of a military veteran who fights for our freedom abroad is a sacrifice. So is the death of a police officer or deputy who defends the innocent from the wicked at home.

In May, departments throughout the country celebrated “National Police Week,” an annual tribute to law enforcement. Law Enforcement officers and deputies are often said to form a “thin blue line” as they protect the rights of all to make our society a safe place to live.  During Police Week, departments across the nation pay respect to the thousands who have lost their lives while protecting our freedoms.

Over the years, Virginia Beach police – including the days of Princess Anne County police – have lost several officers to line of duty deaths. We value and honor their service and vow that they will never be forgotten.

When a citizen approaches a police officer and thanks them, there are many embedded meanings. Gratitude for service includes recognition for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. It acknowledges that officers and deputies are patrolling their streets while citizens are at home or asleep. When families are enjoying holiday events, there are some who are directing traffic, changing the tire for an elderly couple on the side of the road or searching for a lost child.

It is my belief that although officers and deputies may be equal in the eyes of God, they hold a special place in the hearts of the citizens they protect. This is not to suggest that American policing is perfect. Some reforms are necessary. But, like our military veterans, the people who protect our communities at home provide a service worthy of our gratitude.


Gallagher, a U.S. Army veteran, is a 27-year police officer who serves as the deputy chief overseeing professional standards for the Virginia Beach Police Department. He holds a bachelors degree in criminal justice and a masters degree in public administration from Old Dominion University. 


THOSE WHO DIED IN THE LINE OF DUTY IN VIRGINIA BEACH

Special Constable Malachi J. Beasley (1898) Officer Allen Gimbert (1923)  Officer Elmo C. Trower (1923) Officer Charles E. Porteus (1952) Special Police Officer Hezekiah Little Jr. (1953) Detective Robert R. Monette (1968) Officer Roger L. McClung Jr. (1968) Sgt. Frederick Dale Greene (1975) Detective Jimmy W. Mobley  (1979) Officer William D. Black (1979) Officer Daniel T. Maloney (1981) Officer George W. Starr (1991) Officer Rodney F. Pocceschi (2003) Deputy Sheriff William Henry Tiedeman Jr. (2006) Detective Michael Phillips (2008)


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