By Brandi Makuski
National Police Week is May 11-17. In the face of so much violence against police officers nationwide, it’s this time of year we can be grateful for our local law enforcement and their relationships with the community.
Police officers have one of the toughest jobs available outside of actual military service. Members of the Stevens Point and Plover Police departments, the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office and the Wisconsin State Patrol make the conscious choice to join a profession the rest of us don’t want to dirty our hands with. Many of those peace officers often go without knowing how much we appreciate them- and sometimes they’re even criticized for doing their job.
The men and women of our local law enforcement encounter the darkest and worst side of our community: suicidal individuals, drug and alcohol abuse and related deaths, untreated mental illness, sex crimes, domestic violence and child abuse and- while it’s mercifully rare locally- murder.
For the most part, we see law enforcement in our daily lives as they drive through the community, or speed through town on their way to a service call. They are the public face when a road is blocked to traffic due to a car accident or other emergency, barraged with repeated inquiries by passersby eager for information the officer doesn’t always have. They’re gawked at by passing traffic when they pull over a motorist. They face regular backlash whenever they take possession of new or updated equipment and- increasingly- their actions are captured on cell phone video by the angry friend of someone being placed in handcuffs.
Every move they make is open to public scrutiny largely because much of what they do is in public.
We’ll never know how many near-catastrophes they’ve averted. We’ll never know how many lives were saved by their presence or actions. We’ll never know how many drug mills have not set up shop locally, how many home invasions did not occur and how many weapons were not brought into schools.
We’ll never know how bad it could be- and that’s kind of the whole point.
There’s no denying we’ve got our share of problems here. Our community has suffered through murders, sexual assaults, violence and suicides. Crime will never go away. But law enforcement doesn’t just prevent crime- they also try to understand why it happens and educate local residents as to the triggers and warning signs of criminal activity.
They also make time to spend with the communities they serve. In Plover, police offer quasi-social events like “Coffee with a Cop” at Dunkin’ Donuts, where residents are invited to chat or share concerns over a cup of Joe.
Plover PD, along with the Portage Co. Sheriff’s Office, also helped launch the now-hugely popular “Cops and Bobbers” fishing event in June, inviting kids and families to try their luck on the shorelines at Bukolt Park. The department also performs a hefty community service by taking less-fortunate kids shopping for back-to-school clothes and Christmas presents.
Last year Stevens Point police launched the “Guns & Hoses” fundraising event to benefit Never Forgotten Honor Flight. It’s a day-long family affair which relies on several police-community partnerships and puts local cops, firefighters and the military directly in the public eye, casting them in a more approachable light. The department also has its Coin Recognition Program, whereby regular citizens are recognized annually for heroic efforts in thwarting crime, assisting law enforcement with an investigation or saving a life.
Along with Portage County deputies, area police officers eat lunch with local students, help stranded motorists change a tire or retrieve gas and search for lost pets. Amid the required paperwork for each of their service calls, each officer carries a highly-visible presence in our community. They respond to calls for help in the middle of the night, during holidays and always at great personal risk.
We could say “thank you” to each local police officer and sheriff’s deputy, but somehow it doesn’t seem enough. Certainly our gratitude should also be extended to the families of local law enforcement, too, since it is the spouses, children and parents who worry and fear most each time their loved one heads off to work.
But really, saying “thank you” is all we can do.
So to all local law enforcement- thank you for all you do.