Each year, law enforcement officers come under fire. They are assaulted. They are killed.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reports that “on average,one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty in the United States every 58 hours.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reports “that 51 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2014. This is an increase of almost 89 percent when compared to the 27 officers killed in 2013. Offenders used firearms in 46 of the 51 felonious deaths.” Assaults against officers are averaging 58,930 yearly.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation also reports that 49,851 officers were victims of line-of-duty assaults in 2013.
Officers and deputies are from: local police, marshals, rangers, constables, highway patrol, state officers, sheriff’s office, and the department of corrections. They are men and women from their own local communities who have a desire to keep their towns and cities safe.
One such man is Sergeant Thomas Smith—at the Martin County Sheriff’s Office on the Treasure Coast in South Florida. Sergeant Smith grew up in Palm City, Florida and graduated from Martin County High School. A local, he ran a lawn mowing business in high school and paid his own way through the police academy. A law enforcement veteran, he has been a Sheriff’s deputy for 18 years.
In rural Martin County, Sergeant Smith oversees West County Operations, which is fondly called “Ranch and Grove,” where livestock neglect and farm equipment theft are investigated. Deputies also regularly deal with trespassing on private lands to hunt or poach, and people shooting at wildlife from the road which is a felony. Sheriff deputies utilize ATVs, trail cameras, night vision goggles, and a posse when needed for missing people or a manhunt. Deputies also carry tools to fix fences after a car crash. Fences are necessary to keep cows off roads and highways. (Approximately “half of Florida agricultural land is involved in cattle pastureland.“)
Sergeant Smith is also Martin County Sheriff’s SWAT Commander. SWAT is the acronym for Special Weapons and Tactics. Martin County SWAT is an auxiliary force within the Sheriff’s Office. Each of the 20 deputies must qualify to participate and receives no extra pay for participation.
Rigorous training and certification are required so that the team is ready when necessary for such activities as executing search warrants, hostage rescue, riot control, etc… This elite group has snipers and hostage negotiators.
In early 2015, the Sheriff’s Office purchased a $300,000 Bearcat G3 (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) with monies seized in narcotics investigations. Since acquiring the American-made Lenco,” SWAT has used the vehicle about a dozen times,” states Sergeant Smith.
Sergeant Smith adds, “With the BearCat we can safely rescue an officer down or a hostage. Sheriff Snyder has gotten us armor and new guns, which we very much needed. The guys in SWAT are happy about this.”
The BearCat is imposing, but it has provided armor to a team that used to arrive to execute a search warrant in a minivan. The vehicle also gives the deputies eyes and ears inside a building, tear gas may be deployed within a building through its ram, or a riot dispersed with the LRAD—Long Range Acoustic Device. Its armor can withstand a .50-caliber shot. Civilians can be more easily assisted during a hostage incident or terrorist threat. Inside, a platform rises and a turret opens for a sniper to stand, giving necessary cover to hostages and SWAT members on foot. Even the tires are run flat. The men are safe inside.
Who are these men and women?
Like Sergeant Smith, they are the neighbor boys and girls who have attended the local high school and grew up in the community. They are sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, moms and dads. They shop at the grocery stores and watch the ball games. They are the men and women of the community who are willing, if necessary, to lay down their lives for others.
Sergeant Smith was asked “If you could go back 18 years, would you do it again?” He answered, “Yes, I believe I would. When I first began with the Sheriff’s Office, I was paid $23,000. But I would have done it for nothing. I like helping people.”