Circuit Judge Troy B. Braswell Jr. challenged residents to back the blue daily Thursday as county residents gathered in downtown Conway to honor eight local officers who have died in the line of duty through the years.
Law enforcement families and supporters along with city and county officials gathered Thursday evening at Simon Park in downtown Conway to honor former President John F. Kennedy's proclamation that May 15 be spent honoring police.
“It is important that our people know and understand the problems, duties, and responsibilities of their police departments and the necessity for cooperating with them in maintaining law and order,” Kennedy's 1962 proclamation reads in part. “It is fitting and proper that we express our gratitude for the dedicated service and courageous deeds of law enforcement officers and for the contributions they have made to the security and well-being of all our people.”
Conway Maj. Chris Harris stood before Thursday's crowd and announced that there have been 23,721 known line of duty deaths across the nation since 1791.
In the past 10 years, 1,663 have died while serving their communities — 163 of those occurred last year. To date, 42 officers have died during the line of duty in 2019.
Harris reminded those who attended the 13th annual Faulkner County Fallen Law Enforcement Officers ceremony that law enforcement deaths affect more than the communities those officers served.
"We have not experienced a line of duty death here in Arkansas since 2017 when we lost three officers," he said. "When a police officer is killed, it’s not just an agency that loses an officer, it’s an entire nation. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those impacted."
Conway Police Chief Jody Spradlin thanked each person for attending before he and Faulkner County Sheriff Tim Ryals handed roses to officers and deputies of their respective departments one-by-one for each fallen officer. Roses were ceremonially placed in front of pictures of each of the county’s fallen officers.
The Conway Police Department’s fallen officers include:Patrolman Robert W. “Bob” Martin who was killed by gunfire on March 24, 1981. Patrolman Barry Kent McDaniel who was killed by vehicular assault on April 2, 1982. Patrolman Lawrence Ray Noblitt who was killed by gunfire on Nov. 7, 1988. Patrolman William “Will” McGary who was hit by a vehicle and killed while directing traffic at the scene of a crash on Feb. 1, 2013.
FCSO’s fallen officers include:Deputy Oscar L. Honea who was killed by gunfire on Oct. 23, 1914. Deputy William E. Hathaway was killed by gunfire on Aug. 5, 1931. Deputy Jimmy “Jim” Wooley died as the result of a fall while investigating a theft on Aug. 5, 2003. Deputy Hans Fifer died from a heart attack during SWAT training on April 8, 2013.
Throughout the ceremony, local leaders explained the importance behind "backing the blue."
Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry shared a humorous, yet meaningful memory, that showcased his experiences in being supported and backed by CPD.
Looking back on his 33 years at the Conway Fire Department, Castleberry recalled responding to an early-morning brush fire when he and a fellow firefighter were pranked by officers Mike Gibbs and Danny Moody.
“We get out and start hosing it down and all of a sudden, we hear the air horns on the fire truck," he said with a smile while mimicking the sound of the truck's horn. "Well of course, it scares us. We turn around and look and Mike Gibbs, who’s a retired Conway police officer, and Danny Moody had gotten in the fire truck and laid on the air horn. They got us really good."
As the two officers were headed out, Castleberry said he noticed Gibbs' window was rolled down. Quickly, in retaliation to having his horn sounded by two Conway officers, the former firefighter said he aimed his hose into the patrol car and sprayed at Gibbs.
"Mike came by with the window down laughing, and I had an engine that had nozzles, so I just turned it on him. It went through him and onto the radio," Castleberry said. "We both got in trouble for destroying public property."
Despite the recklessness of the group, he said the overall moment he took away was knowing local officers always were looking out for the fire department's safety.
"The gist of it is we didn’t know Mike and Danny were out there, but they were. They were watching after us," Castleberry said. "To you law enforcement officers, you men and women in blue, I always knew you had our back and I appreciate the job that each of you do."
However, despite the significance of their roles, Braswell also said he believes local officers to not fully understand the magnitude of their sacrifices.
"I don’t know that there’s a single family member here or a law enforcement officer that would say, ‘Yes, I’m a hero.’ But, you are," he said.
Local officers and deputies prove daily their heroic traits by always responding quickly to render aide across the cities and areas they serve daily for residents across Faulkner County.
"You respond every time there’s a call. You don’t know what’s around the corner. You don’t know what’s behind the door. It may be a domestic call, but you have no idea what’s going on, but you respond. You don’t ask questions other than where am I going and how quickly can I get there," Braswell said.
Officers and deputies across Faulkner County help shed a positive light on the role of a law enforcement officer.
And with Police Week nearing an end, Braswell challenged residents to thank officers throughout the year, not just on National Peace Officers Memorial Day.
"Today’s a great day to recognize them, but it’s one day out of many," he said. "We owe it to them to support them everyday."