RECOGNIZING THOSE WHO 'PAID THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE'

Chatham law enforcement commemorates fallen officers in remembrance ceremony

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PITTSBORO — At least 50 Chatham officials, residents and law enforcement officers came to the Chatham County Agricultural & Conference Center — adorned in royal blue decor and flower arrangements — last Wednesday to honor those who died while on duty “to Protect and to Serve.”

The departments of Chatham Sheriff Mike Roberson, Pittsboro Police Chief Shorty Johnson and Siler City Police Chief Mike Wagner joined forces to host a remembrance ceremony to remember their sacrifice in 2021.

“It really is important to remember every day a police officer, sheriff’s deputy, any law enforcement (person) who puts their life on the line for our community,” Wagner said. “It’s our duty to recognize those that paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

The Police Remembrance Day ceremony featured remarks from the three and a keynote speaker — Edgecombe County Sheriff Cleveland Atkinson — and a reading of the names of 21 officers in North Carolina who laid down their lives for their communities in 2021.

Roberson gave the welcome address at Wednesday’s event recognizing several elected officials, government staff and familiar faces who attended the ceremony. Some of the attendees included N.C. House 54 Representative Robert Reives’ staff, former county commissioner Walter Petty, some members of the Siler City Board of Commissioners, U.S. Congressman Tedd Budd’s staff, county employees and more.

Roberson took a moment to recognize and thank police officers who came to the remembrance ceremony, saying he understands the risks of the job they each hold.

“We know the serious responsibility you take when you go to work each day to serve others,” Roberson said. “You are the ones that face the dangers each day, who literally put yourself between the innocent and the guilty to go into places of turmoil and aggression, thinking only of whom you can help.”

Atkinson’s remarks also touched on the sacrifice, speaking about the time and effort officers put into ensuring their communities are safe.

Sometimes, he said, it can be the last thing an officer does in their life.

“We are there to defend the weak, apprehend those who violate the laws and serve and help those who are helpless,” Atkinson said. “You deliver hope to the people even if we have to give up our lives.”

The ceremony included the display of a floral wreath, clad with a blue banner emblazoned with the words “Police Week 2022.” An officer from the sheriff’s department placed the ceremonial garland at the front of the room, while several other officers stood at attention, honoring those who died while protecting their communities.

Wagner read the names of the 21 officers who died, as well as their departments and “end of watch” dates. Following the event, Wagner said he felt it was important to recognize not only the officers but their families dealing with the loss of their loved ones.

“It’s not only about those that have followed a lot of service,” Wagner said, “It’s their extended families — the wives and the children, the moms and dads that are left behind. We’re just asking for the community to recognize the sacrifice and appreciate what we do.”

Johnson thanked community members in attendance for coming to the remembrance ceremony, as well as for their continued support toward Chatham’s law enforcement.

“What we do, we do with a servant’s heart,” Johnson said, “and that’s the only way that you get through is with the servant’s heart…we do what we do for y’all (the community), and I’m just glad we’ve got y’all’s support.”

After the event, Atkinson implored residents to support their local law enforcement, as well as to challenge some of the negative assumptions associated with police.

“Our local law enforcement — at the end of the day — is an honorable profession,” Atkinson told the News + Record. “We don’t always get it right, but we try to get it right. We try to train hard, we try to train well. but our ultimate goal is to keep the citizens safe the best that we can.”

Wagner said the community support for the law enforcement agencies in Chatham County is abundant, and it was shown through the turnout at Wednesday’s event. He also said events such as Wednesday’s ceremony provide an educational opportunity for Chathamites to understand what officers face on a day-to-day basis.

Wagner urged the need for continued support from residents across the county, as he believes it will help officers provide the best service possible in their towns and cities.

“I think it’s evident now how important law enforcement is in our community,” Wagner said. “As we strive to do things, the best practices per se, we need the community to continue to grow and support us — that’s the way it works.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com.

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