ROCKINGHAM — Law enforcement officers swear an oath to protect and serve, and keeping that promise sometimes costs them their lives.
City and county officials joined officers and their families Friday on the steps of the former Richmond County Courthouse to remember police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers killed in the line of duty locally and throughout the nation.
“We deal with the worst of the worst and sometimes the best of the best,” said Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr. “There’s nothing greater than to be willing to lay down your life for a friend.”
A law enforcement officer’s fundamental duty is to serve the community, to safeguard lives and property, to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation and the peaceful against violence or disorder and to respect the constitutional right of all to liberty, equality and justice, according to the law enforcement code of ethics.
Richmond County officials have held local ceremonies since President John F. Kennedy designated May 15 as Peace Officers’ Memorial Day. The observance was postponed due to heavy rain on Thursday, and a large crowd of officers and supporters gathered under a bright blue sky Friday to pay their respects.
Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris spoke of officers’ reliability. Folks flip on a switch and expect electricity, turn on a spigot and expect water and — just the same — they call 911 and expect a uniformed officer to respond, he said.
“When you fill out an application, you should fill it out H-E-R-O,”Morris told the officers on hand. “Thanks for being one of the heroes that keeps us on an even keel.”
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has had four line-of-duty deaths, including Sheriff Dewitt William Ormsby in 1943, Marks Creek constable William David Smith in 1929, jailer Samuel Lou Baucom in 1915 and Deputy Melvin Duncan Livingston in 1892.
Hamlet Chief of Police John B. Fallow lost his life in 1942 while attempting to arrest a man.
Sixty-one North Carolina Highway Patrol troopers have been killed in the line of duty, with Patrolman Wister Lee Reese becoming the most recent Richmond County casualty in 1957. A section of U.S. 74 near Hamlet was renamed in Reese’s honor.
The most recent U.S. line-of-duty death came May 12, when Patrolman Stephen Arkell was fatally shot at the site a domestic dispute in Brentwood, New Hampshire.
Gov. Pat McCrory ordered United States and North Carolina flags lowered to half-staff on Thursday to honor fallen law enforcement officers.
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-997-3331, ext. 18.