A SHARED OATH

Law enforcement officers bring A game to the basketball court
Jan. 18, 2014 @ 11:12 PM

Atlanta police officer Kyle Jackson was surrounded by orange jerseys when he pulled out a piece of notebook paper and began to construct a defensive strategy during halftime.

The law enforcement officers traveled up from Atlanta to bring their skills to the court in Battle of the Badges, a basketball tournament that not only honors officers who’ve died in the line of duty, but also raises scholarship money for children living in underprivileged towns.

Jackson sat, sweating, on the court in the Emily Krzyzewski Center, pointing to his drawn plan of circles and lines. They were up by more than 20 points, facing the New York Police Department.

“Everybody push over,” he directed. “Don’t guard an area when nobody’s in your area.”

At the buzzer, they circled up, bumping fists. “One, two, three, defense!”

This is the second year that the MLK Jr. Battle of the Badges tournament has been held in Durham. Wake County detention officer Jerome Hall started the tourney in 2000 in Baltimore, Md., to honor his neighbor and mentor, Maryland State Trooper Edward M. Toatley, who was killed in the line of duty.

Toatley was only 37 when he was killed during an undercover narcotics investigation in D.C. While attempting to purchase narcotics from the suspect, he was shot in the head at close range.

Hall said when he was growing up in his Maryland neighborhood, he would see Toatley come home in his patrol car.

“The way he was cut, he looked like a Marine,” said Hall, who served five years in the Marine Corps before entering civilian law enforcement.

This year, Battle of the Badges honored Lumberton police officer Jeremiah Goodson and Warren Correctional Institution officer Tracey Alston. The organizers presented plaques to the departments and family members of the fallen.

“When your family member took the ultimate test and raised their hand to work in this field, they entered a brotherhood and sisterhood,” Hall said.

Since the tournaments began, they have honored more than 15 fallen officers and awarded about $10,000 in scholarship money.

Hall said the tournament is open to “anybody who wears a badge.” Seventeen teams participated this weekend, including Connecticut police officers, Maryland homeland security officers and Durham attorneys. Throughout the year, Hall and his friends hold tournaments across the country and even as far as the Dominican Republic.

Jackson, who has been with the Atlanta Police Department for four years, said he played basketball at Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania. His team won 63 to 33 that morning, and they were already preparing for the next round.

When asked about Battle of the Badges’ serious mission, Jackson said about the officers who passed away, “It can be anybody. It could be me. My day could have come already.”

“Cherish every moment, cherish your family,” he added. “…You want to be the best officer you can be.”

Hall said one of the most important aspects of the tournament is the networking, where he’s seen officers meet for the first time and then get married, and others transfer to new law enforcement jobs through contacts they made on the court.

But even more than that, he said, it’s about breaking the ice with the community, to show people that law enforcement officers can be trusted, that they’re human.

“When I grew up, a lot of officers had respect in the community,” he said.