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COLUMN: It's a tough job but someone's got to do it

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Severo Avila

Severo Avila is Features Editor at the Rome News-Tribune.

I think the recent tragedy in Polk County was a wakeup call for a lot of people. I know it was for me.

When Detective Kristen Hearn was killed while on duty it shook a lot of us. She was just doing her job. She was killed simply because she was wearing that uniform.

Social media blew up suddenly with people expressing their heartbreak for Kristen's family and coworkers. And I also read a lot of people's expressions of concern for the law enforcement officials in their lives and the first responders they knew who could just as easily have been involved in a similar situation.

And it got me thinking — it must be a strange existence to be a member of law enforcement and get out of bed every day knowing that people dislike you simply because you put that uniform on.

People actually hate you because you do the job you're paid to do. People want to see you hurt or even worse, just because of the career you've chosen. And the irony is that it's an honorable career. It's one that you'd think most people would look up to.

It takes guts to go to a job every day with the very real possibility that you might be harmed doing it. Your next shift might get you hurt or even killed. Most of us will never know the feeling of saying goodbye to our families as we leave for a regular day at the job and wonder if we will see them again.

So, I respect and appreciate those who take that risk every day. I don't think I could ever be a police officer or a fire fighter and race to a scene knowing I could be killed when I get there. They rush headlong into a domestic violence scenario or a scene with an active shooter or a bomb threat or a blazing fire because it's their job to protect people from those things.

Our natural instincts are to flee those dangerous situations and they can't. They can't run the other way just to save themselves. They can't hide even though they may want to. Even though they may want to go home to see their families, they have to go where the rest of us would rather not.

And it must be equally difficult to love and care about a member of law enforcement or a first responder or a firefighter — people who put themselves in harm's way every day. You must worry constantly if your husband or your wife or dad or sister is safe. I know none of us are guaranteed to be safe at our jobs but there are those for whom the risk is far greater.

This column is in no way my attempt to glorify members of law enforcement and first responders and firefighters and make them all out to be pure-hearted heroes. Just like any other profession, there are those who are very good at what they do, and there are those who could do better. I know there are some who may abuse their authority and there are some who don't always uphold the "serve and protect" motto.

They're human too, just like the rest of us. At times we all get angry or upset or jealous or frightened. We all have bad days and none of us are perfect.

What I'm asking is that as a community, we appreciate more what members of law enforcement do for us.

Here at the paper the police scanner is always running so we can hear dispatchers telling police officers what incidents they need to respond to. You know why people call 911? They call 911 when their elderly mother falls and isn't responsive. They call 911 because they heard a noise outside their house and it's dark and they're alone and afraid. They call 911 because their husband is hitting them. And they call 911 for the big things as well — the wrecks and fires and shots fired and suicide attempts.

We call them because we need them.

All those people who say "I hate all cops" or "they're all corrupt" need to realize that one day you may need those same people you hate. And they'll probably show up to help you because it's their job.

I guess what I'm saying is that we can't make law enforcement out to be the enemy. They're not the bad guys. You may not like all of them, but I promise you there are good ones.

A few weeks ago a local photo was floating around on social media. It was of a county officer — John Glaze — kneeling on the side of the road, in his black uniform. The person who posted the photo said it was 92 degrees outside. He was changing a woman's flat tire. I suppose on the surface that seems like an inconsequential thing for a police officer to do but I bet you to that woman he was a hero in that moment.

I'm sure I'll get pulled over at some point in the future or have some other run-in with law enforcement. And with my big mouth I'll probably make a police officer mad and he or she may say or do something I don't like. But if that ever happens, I'll try to cut them some slack. Lord knows they've got a tough, thankless job to do.

To those who serve us in law enforcement and as firefighters and as first responders, you have my respect and my appreciation.

Severo Avila is features editor for the Rome News-Tribune