Sunday, May 15 marked the 59th National Peace Officer Memorial Day, according to Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith.
The past decade has proven to be especially challenging for law enforcement nationwide, Smith said.
“There has been an enormous amount of hatred thrown against our profession, never have I seen a time where our actions have been more despised than now, and we are suffering drastically nationwide because of it,” he said.
Smith said departments across the country, large and small, are struggling to maintain operations because “no one wants to do this job anymore, it is sad.”
In most places, Smith cited low pay and the negative scrutiny as primary reasons that few applicants follow through with the application process.
Virginia sheriff’s deputies are among the lowest paid law enforcement officers in the country, Smith said, even though Virginia is one of the wealthiest states in the country. Because of that, sheriff’s offices statewide suffer from a 37 percent turnover rate. The combination of low pay, national hatred and intense scrutiny has taken its toll, he added.
“The combination of these factors certainly increases the dangers of the job,” Smith said, adding increased assault rates against patrol and correctional officers over the past two years. Smith said that assaults against Patrick deputies have risen 50 percent in the last two years.
He acknowledged that public sentiment as a whole in Patrick County seems different than most parts of the nation.
“People here are different, they see the mutual respect that citizens and law enforcement have for each other, and that bond makes Patrick County a much safer place than most,” Smith said.
He noted that his employees play a huge role in maintaining that respect, and that he is indebted to them for the job they do.
“If you see our people out, thank them for what they do for all of us, and pray for their continued safety in protecting and serving all of us,” Smith said.
On October 1, 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed the bill declaring May 15 as the day into law, thereby allowing the country to remember the nation’s more than 24,000 local, state and federal law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty, Smith said, adding the week of May 15 also has been deemed National Police Week.