The recent sniper shooting that claimed the lives of five Dallas police officers and injured others has served as a grim reminder to members of the law enforcement community that danger is eminent in their line of work.
Those shootings came in the wake of highly publicized shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota in which officers shot people they were questioning.
Local police say they’ve known about the risks they face since they first swore to protect and serve, and that the ambush attack has had little to no effect on their day-to-day duties. They also see this as a time to preserve and even build up the relationships they have with the communities they serve.
“We are not going to allow that to interfere with the way we interact with the public,” said Zebulon police Chief Tim Hayworth. “Sometimes, when we have a tragedy, it becomes a time for officers to reflect that, ‘Hey, this is real. I’ve got to do my job.’ But at the same time we can’t overreact and become robots or non-personal because part of our job is community policing and getting out of the car and being friendly with the public.”
The Knightdale, Wendell and Zebulon departments have all had informal discussions about the events that took place in Dallas.
Wendell Chief Bill Carter said the topic came up during a shift change meeting Monday night.
“I think folks are still continuing to monitor it – I think new information and statistics come out every hour on what happened (in Dallas),” Carter said. “We’re certainly cognizant of it and express a lot of sympathy toward those persons and the police department as a whole.
“The reality is when you are out there every day you realize you are at risk. But it just brings it a little closer to home when an event, especially one of this magnitude, does occur. Are the officers a little more on edge about it and because of it? I would say probably so.”
Hayworth sent out a department-wide email to his staff, reminding them to take all the necessary precautions and to remain vigilant.
“We’re trained to do that, but sometimes we get complacent and officers kind of let down their guard,” he said.
Zebulon Sgt. Edwin Killette said the chief’s warning to stay alert is always valid, regardless of recent events.
He was in disbelief when he heard about the Dallas shootings.
“It’s the first time in a long time there’s been a mass attack on police. Ambushes happen from time-to-time, but nothing on this scale or a sniper attack,” Killette said. “It didn’t concern me as much as I was concerned for those officers in areas with larger populations. We have a pretty good rapport here with our citizens.
“You definitely think about it when you know there are warranted threats against your profession in general, but it’s an inherent risk in the job.”
Hayworth said the Zebulon department has received an outpouring of support from the community.
Some people have brought baked goods by the station, while others have approached officers to shake their hands, thank them and let them know they are praying for police.
Officers need to see that kind of public support in times like these, Hayworth said.
“We don’t want them to get the idea that it’s citizens against the police, because we certainly don’t think that’s the case and we’ve gotten the same (reaction) from our citizens.”
The Dallas shooting caused Wendell Sgt. Steve Hall to think about the bigger picture of the relationship between police and the public.
“I think it’s all of it together; it’s not just one specific event,” he said. “Anytime something bad like this happens, it’s on my mind for the families who are affected by it. It’s all the events – not just this year, and even the ones where it’s one person and one officer involved.”
But it hasn’t really had a measurable impact on the workday for Hall.
“I think other officers do the same, we just try to be careful what we do,” he said. “You look at things like this as learning experiences. We haven’t changed anything, but we learn what we can from it and apply it where we can.”
Work has been the same for Knightdale Off. Donnell Jackson, too, although he has noticed people giving him unique looks since the shooting.
“Some are smiles. Some are confusion, of wonder,” Jackson said. “Some are looks that are asking (questions).”
Matter of understanding
Knightdale Chief Lawrence Capps said his department has been proactive in areas that stand to benefit from better community relations.
A Community Policing Advisory Board was formed last year for the sole purpose of opening lines of communication between police and the public. And, for the past couple years, the Knightdale department has been utilizing body-worn camera technology.
“We have to understand more than ever this is a mutual relationship,” Capps said. “We have a tremendous amount of support from our public. ... It’s built on clear lines of communication and a level of responsiveness from the police department to the community that you won’t see in a lot of places and we’re appreciative of that.”
Jackson considers it part of his responsibility to be approachable and willing to talk with residents about any concerns they may have.
He said his duty extends far beyond just being easy to talk to.
“Going out and making the conversation with these people, for me, is not an issue,” Jackson said. “They need to understand my views and I need to understand theirs.”
On Monday, some people were giving Jackson a hard time while it appeared he was placing a man in custody. He was actually giving the man relief from the sun shining in on his convertible car during their exchange.
After he explained what was actually happening, Jackson said all parties shared opinions and walked away with smiles.
“I’ll get, ‘Thank-you’s,’ and I’ll get, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ kinds of things ... but call it heckling,” he said. “Those are some of the things we’re used to these days.”