Honoring men who risk their lives

November 01, 2000

Honoring men who risk their lives

The death of Edward Toatley, a Maryland State Trooper shot during an undercover drug operation on Monday, is a tragic reminder that too often we take for granted the sacrifices that police personnel make on our behalf.

That's why the Hagerstown Exchange Club recently honored officers from three local agencies. In the words of Wilson Waddy, a retired FBI agent and program chair, the program was held "to paytribute, to recognize and thank those officers for serving us so well and keeping our streets safe and our homes secure."

Waddy, who logged some time of his own on the streets of Washington County, said that in his opinion, "we take law enforcement for granted, even though they place their lives on the line for us to do this dangerous job."

To honor that commitment, the club asked Sheriff Charles Mades, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith and Lt. Randy Resh, commander of the Hagerstown barracks of the Maryland State Police, to choose a top officer in their command for the year 2000. Their chooses were:


HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> For the Hagerstown Police Department, the Officer of the Year was Paul Kifer, an eight-year veteran of the department, who "consistently puts the department and community ahead of his own desires."

Kifer, a field training officer, also drew praise from those he's helped to train and from former trainees who say he remains accessible and helpful even after their training has been completed.

Kifer gave the credit for his award to his fellow officers, saying he would "like to receive the award on behalf of those I work with."

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> For the Washington County Sheriff's Department, the Officer of the year was James Cooper Jr.

Cooper has been active in law-enforcement for 15 years, starting as an HPD cadet in 1984. He applied for a position with the Washington County Sheriff's Department in 1986, followed by a stint in Frederick County.

In 1992, he was back in Washington County, helping to form a domestic-violence team, whose primary responsibility was following up on incidents of abuse. Though the grant that helped fund that team has since run out, Cooper remains the department's domestic-violence expert.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> For the Maryland State Police, Cpl. J.B. Robinson was named Officer of the Year. The six-year veteran had already been named Trooper of the Year for 1999 by the Maryland State Troopers Alumni Association and was named Trooper of the Month for the Hagerstown barracks for three months during 1999.

He was nominated for the current award because he provides "an unprecedented level of service to the community and because he shows genuine care for those he deals with."

For three years he's been active in a "Prom Promise" program, talking to students about the dangers of using drugs and alcohol. He has also taught second graders at Children's Village and participated in the annual Trooper Camp, a summer program that encourages children's interest in law enforcement.

"This could not have been accomplished without the support of my family and friends. I just try to do the job the best way I can," Robinson said.

Not long ago I spent a couple of hours late at night on East Franklin Street with a group from the downtown chapter of Hagerstown's Neighborhoods First, watching as the so-called cruisers - those on foot and those in their cars - went up and down the street.

Depending on who you talk to, they were up to no good or just hanging around, something I did myself 30-odd years ago. In the little suburb of West Hyattsville near College Park, Md., there was a different level of respect for the police then, a mixture of fear and awe.

The idea of community policing, which some of the honored officers have been involved in, is an attempt to change that, so residents of the neighborhoods will see police as partners in the process of positive change, instead of as adversaries.

At the Exchange ceremony, the dining room was packed with fellow officers, families and some parents of those men who were honored. It was a heart-warming scene, but I don't envy them the tension they must feel every time they hear a siren in the distance, or the emergency tones sounding on the police-band radio.

They're never really off-duty, either, as my old neighbor Officer Tony found whenever neighbors needed somebody to stop a husband and wife from screaming at each other or to tell the kids to stop playing football in the street.

No offense to him, but today's officers are probably better trained and probably in better shape physically. They need all that and more to face a world that's much more menacing than it was 30 years ago. For facing those risks willingly, I salute them.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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