Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith said local authorities observed the 56th National Peace Officer Memorial Day on May 15.
Pres. John F. Kennedy on Oct. 1, 1962, signed a bill into law declaring May 15 as the day for our country to remember the nation’s now 23,720 local, state and federal law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty, according to the sheriff.
The week also is deemed National Police Week.
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.
Departments large and small across the country are struggling to maintain operations because “no one wants to do this job anymore, it is sad,” Smith said. In most places, he said that the pay is so low and the negative scrutiny received is so great, that few are following 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 21 percent turnover rate.
The combination of low pay, national hatred and intense scrutiny has taken its toll, Smith said. “The combination of these factors certainly increases the dangers of the job,” he added, noting the recent targeted assassination of a Biloxi, Miss. police officer. Smith stated that for the first time in many years, officers shot and killed in the line of duty outnumbered officers killed in car crashes in 2018.
He acknowledged the public sentiment as a whole in Patrick County does seem 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 he is forever 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.