Your Turn — Uniformed Respect

Published 12:13 pm Saturday, January 7, 2023

Last week, I attended the funeral of Joe Carey. Joe served in uniform for a total of 40 years. I first met him while he served as a deputy sheriff in his home county of Charlotte. Later, he served on the Chase City police force for a couple of years and then agreed to serve as Chief of Police in Brodnax.

It was in Brodnax that his life was cut short, not by a bad guy, but rather doing his usual service of caring for the needs of the community. A wounded dog, a brief lapse of awareness of where he stood as he sought to deal with the dog, ended with his death on the road.

The funeral was attended by sheriffs, deputies, chiefs, and officers from across Virginia, from Fairfax County south. Some knew him, but most attended to express their solidarity with his family. They clearly understand that what happened to him could happen to them just doing their job. Officers live a risky life. Not only do they face dangerous individuals and dangerous situations, but they are expected to run toward the problem rather than away.

Though that was not the case with Joe, his profession called on him to be on the road more than most of us. The more one is on the road, the greater chance that there will be problems; accidents happen.

Governor Youngkin attended the funeral as he often does to honor fallen officers. He spoke with passion, not only to the family, but also to the officers in attendance. The Governor and the pastors spoke about the families of officers and their challenges. Families do not get rich in their service to us and our communities. Spouses constantly worry, not will their loved one face danger, but when and will they survive.

The Future of Law Enforcement

Between Joe’s death and his funeral, I saw an update on the current situation that law enforcement is facing. Three significant issues face the future of law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Risks

In 2021, many more officers were killed or wounded in the line of duty. Some of those were trying to stop criminal behavior, but far too many were targeted or ambushed. Consider these statistics:

The National Fraternal Order of Police issued a report on December 21 reporting that 323 law enforcement officers were shot in the line of duty so far this year. Sixty officers were killed by gunfire overall. This matches last year which saw 63 law enforcement officers killed. These numbers are a 28% increase over 2020. The report also noted that 124 officers had been shot in 87 separate ambush-style attacks. Of the 124 officers so wounded, thirty-one were killed.

Lack of Prosecution

Too many cities and counties have elected prosecutors (in Virginia, we call them Commonwealth Attorneys) who have a mindset of not locking up felons. In Virginia, at least three of the most populous counties allow charged violent felons out on bail, allowing them to intimidate potential witnesses. Those that are charged often get plea bargained down to lesser charges or limited sentences. Officers, therefore, are left wondering why they should take risks to arrest these offenders.

Respect

Some cities (and states) have effectively tied the hands of their officers. The worst have cut staff and funding, while others have simply tied their hands. They have created oversight boards that consist of civilians who second guess life and death decisions from afar.

These actions have made some officers decide to retire or change professions. Meanwhile, finding qualified individuals to replace them is challenging. Most departments are currently short-staffed.

Compensation

With the risks that officers face, should there be any wonder why officers are leaving a job they love considering that their pay has fallen behind the increases in the cost of living? Some lawmakers are unwilling to properly fund departments. Within those departments, we hear news stories about officers having to choose between patrolling and reserving fuel for emergencies. This is unacceptable!

I am proud that Governor Youngkin has reversed the policies of his predecessor. I stand with him in his proposed raises for our officers. The goal is to once again show that the state respects the work they do and their value to our communities.

Frank Ruff Jr. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at Sen.Ruff@verizon.net, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.