Motivation for police officers

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: Rising law enforcement deaths.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Brookhaven, Mississippi, is a community of about 12-thousand. Last week the town buried two police officers—James White and Zach Moak. They died September 29th during an early morning shootout that left the community reeling.

EICHER: Sadly, many U.S. towns and cities can relate to these tragedies. Although 2017 saw a 50-year low in police fatalities, numbers rose 12 percent in the first half of 2018. And gun-related deaths rose 24 percent. That’s according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Those numbers raise the question: Why would anyone choose a dangerous career like that? WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson takes us to Brookhaven to find out why.

AUDIO: [Sound of Velcro]

KIM HENDERSON, REPORTER: The main thing to remember when you wash a bulletproof vest is to neutralize the Velcro. Match up the flaps and stick the strips together, like this…

…or you’ll snag everything in your load. I learned this the hard way. Because three men in my immediate family wear Kevlar to work. Two call me “Mom.” One calls me “Honey.”

Recently, I did a ride-along with my son Luke, a sheriff’s deputy in Lincoln County, Mississippi. We left after dark.

AUDIO: 20 SO, I’m back 10-8. 10-4, 20.

AUDIO: [Siren]

It doesn’t take long to see the importance of good driving skills.

And the value of a clear-headed radio dispatcher.

RADIO TRANSMISSION: 10-46. It’s going to be at 933 Atwood Lane. 9-3-3 Atwood Lane . . . It’s going to be her grandson causing a disturbance. She advised he’s busted out a window… She just wants him gone.

Luke explains how the cameras work.

AUDIO: We have a dashcam for each patrol unit and body cams that sync with those dash cams.

And other equipment… 

AUDIO: Right at my right hand is our radio… Right behind me is going to be a 12-gauge shotgun and an AR15… On my body, is a bullet-proof vest and our duty belt, which has multiple tools on it—gun, taser, handcuffs, pepper spray. All that on my body adds about 20 pounds.. I have also a backup weapon that I carry on my ankle and a tourniquet…

Luke says the most challenging part of his job is not what you’d think. He points to the inch-thick stack of papers sitting in the floorboard.

AUDIO: These are subpoenas for justice court . . . felony fleeing, DUI first refusal, possession of paraphernalia, possession of marijuana in a vehicle, possession of a controlled substance.

Okay, he’s not crazy about testifying in court, especially on his days off. But really, what’s the worst part of the job?

While driving in a rural area, Luke spots a traffic violation. He flips on his lights and pulls a gold Tahoe to the side of the road. He steps out of the squad car and approaches in pitch-black darkness.

AUDIO: [Sound of door slamming and walking]

After talking to the driver, Luke returns to radio the driver’s license number to the dispatcher. There’s an anxious lull while he waits for information. The driver could be an average Joe. Or he could have an arrest warrant.

AUDIO: 10-4. Comes back to a regular operator . . .

Luke gets back on the road—and back to the question. He says it’s not the domestic disputes, the chases, or the unknown variables of traffic stops that bother him most.

AUDIO: One of the most difficult things I’ve dealt with is working fatalities.  . . . I responded to a wreck on a county road where a young girl was headed to her prom and, um, there was a head-on collision, and she lost her life that night. That was a difficult thing to work.

Two months after Luke was hired in 2017, the sheriff’s department suffered its first casualty. Ever.

AUDIO: Authorities say Goldbold was involved in a domestic dispute with family members. That led Deputy William Durr to respond to the house they were in in Lincoln County, Mississippi. Deputy Durr was shot and killed a short time later.

And then less than two weeks ago, the latest shooting happened. 

AUDIO: Two police officers were shot and killed today in Brookhaven, Mississippi. Officer James White was 35 years old. Corporal Zach Moak—31.

White and Moak were the 41st and 42nd law enforcement officers fatally shot this year in the U.S.

Luke’s father has been a state trooper for 24 years. So I asked both of them about their reaction to the news.

First voice: Sickening. [Pause]
Second voice: Very sobering.
First voice: Such a waste of life. 
First voice: I was mad because somebody had done this to two loyal servants of the community trying to help, and they get killed.

Luke said for now the small Brookhaven Police Department is not only down two officers. It’s missing an entire shift.

AUDIO: You had two officers that have been shot and killed, and the other two officers were on shift, so therefore they were involved in the incident. So they got sent home on leave . . . So we’ve had agencies all across the state come in to fill those shifts to help the police department.  

Luke’s wife and three little girls are at home asleep when he’s covering one of the night shifts. And in a week holding two funerals—with all their motorcades and honor guards and eulogies—I had to ask him again: Why do you want to do this job?

AUDIO: I believe that it’s my calling. I believe that God’s gifted me in certain ways, and this is the job that fits me, and I believe it’s a very crucial part of society. And I think that what I do makes a difference.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson reporting from Brookhaven, Mississippi.

(Photo/Tomás Del Coro, Flickr)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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