Lauding their courage

May. 04, 2014 @ 04:53 PM

State Trooper Michael Potts knows that he came perilously close to never having the chance to deliver the main address Friday at Durham’s homage to fallen law enforcement officers.

Potts in February of last year very nearly became one of those fallen officers. He was shot five times during a traffic stop -- a grim reminder that for people in his line of work no seemingly routine event can be counted on to in fact be routine.

But that experience has not made him regret his decision to go into police work. Neither did the fact his father, a police officer in his Georgia hometown, was shot in the line of duty. The father, like son many years later, fortunately survived.

Potts acknowledged that the day he was shot was “a horrible day for me,” but he is passionate about his work.

“This is who we are,” Potts said Friday at the Peace Officers’ Memorial Service. “This is what we do. Doing what we love. If I had succumbed to my injuries that day, I would have died doing what I loved.”

The annual memorial service was a solemn reminder that hundreds of law officers here, hundreds of thousands across the country, risk their lives every day to serve and protect the rest of us.

The Durham Police Department has been under scrutiny for months over perceived racial profiling and officer-involved shootings. The scrutiny is important – anything officers or their leaders to do raise distrust or disaffection among the law-abiding public, or that might jeopardize the chances of convicting apprehended criminals only undermines the departments effectiveness.

But regardless of those concerns, we should never forget the danger police, sheriff’s officers, highway patrol troopers and others face daily.  We should never fail to honor the courage, bravery and selflessness that characterize people who don their uniforms each day and clock in to help make our city and county safe.

The names solemnly read one by one at Friday’s service underscored that tragedy can come suddenly and, as in Potts’ case, in what might seem the most commonplace of police duties.

Durham Police Detective Roland Gill, for example, was investigating a burglary call when he was shot and killed on June 10, 1933.  Durham Police Officer Gary Fletcher died on Feb. 16, 1978, in a freak accident as he was attaching a fire hose to a hydrant. Willie Ellison Hall was searching for illegal whiskey in the Prohibition era when he was felled in a shotgun ambush.

Kyle Gregory chose police work to carry on the legacy of his father, who died while on duty. He, like Potts, was stoic about the job’s dangers.

“You just make sure that your family knows you love them and that you’re hoping to help or protect someone,” Gregory said. “You do what’s required.”

We are grateful that he and his fellow officers do that, day in and day out.