(THE PICKET) – Fourteen years ago police officers and other American’s were being attacked in a terrorist ambush. Today, police officers across the country are worrying about attacks on them directly.
“We use the term vigilant…we have to be hyper-vigilant,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty. “These despicable acts make our jobs more difficult.”
So far this year there has been 85 officer deaths with 26 of them being firearm related. Texas has the most recorded officer deaths with 10. Maryland has two reported officer deaths and West Virginia has no reported deaths, according to The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund website.
“I like to believe I am pretty aware of my surroundings,” said Shepherdstown Police Department Officer Casey Yonkers. “I always stay vigilant but Shepherdstown doesn’t worry me.”
Yonkers, a seasoned police officer with more than 26 years of experience taught officer survival skills and patrol tactics.
“It was a seven-day course teaching officers about traffic stops, high risk incidents, and situational awareness,” Yonkers said.
Deputy Darren Goforth, the suburban Houston, Texas, police officer who was killed Friday, Aug. 28 while at a gas station was shot 15 times in the back, according to Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson.
Police departments across the country remain on high alert for attacks.
“We have been made aware of threats made in West Virginia, but no specific threats in Jefferson County,” Dougherty said.
Yonkers said that additional community policing would help curb some criminal activity.
“In Shepherdstown I have the opportunity to do community policing…stopping to get a cup of coffee, waving at the citizens, and walking the streets,” Yonkers said. “Major departments don’t have time to do this.”
“It’s not a gun control problem. If (criminals) couldn’t get guns, they would get knives. If they couldn’t get knives, they would use baseball bats…if you want to kill someone you will,” Yonkers said.
Dougherty said that his deputies and other law enforcement agencies are tasked with protecting Jefferson County residents and the approximately 4.3 million visitors yearly.
Yonkers spends his shifts running radar in town, specifically around the community daycares, talking to the parents, and talking to residents.
Yonkers retired from the Hagerstown, Maryland Police Department with 26 years of service.
“Growing up, I never wanted to be a police officer. I actually did HVAC training in high school,” Yonkers said. “While servicing equipment at convenience stores owned by a group of police officers in my hometown, they recommended I become a police officer.
The group said Yonkers had the attitude and demeanor to be a police officer.
Yonkers received in Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from Shippensburg University, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania in 1986 and returned to his home start of New Jersey and began working for the Sussex County Sheriff’s Department.
“People here in Shepherdstown still support their police department,” Yonkers said. “People need to feel protected.”
The Thin Blue Line is a symbol used by law enforcement to commemorate fallen law enforcement officers and to symbolize the relations of law enforcement in the community.
“(The Thin Blue Line) shows people who are being protected and the people protecting them,” Yonkers said. “That line is even thinner (today).”
Shepherdstown Police now requires the use of body cameras by their officers.
“We are required to wear them at all times,” Yonkers said. “I wished we would have had them 28 years ago. It records exactly what I am saying and doing.”
Yonkers said that way there is no discrepancy in his actions.
“I’m at the end of my career, I still do this because I enjoy it,” Yonkers said.
Yonkers said he isn’t afraid of being an officer, especially not in Shepherdstown, but is glad his sons did not follow in his footsteps.
“I’m glad my sons don’t want to be cops,” Yonkers said. “It is difficult being perceived as the bad guy, coupled with having a family and the pay.”
“Somewhere along the line the good guys are seen as bad guys and the bad guys are seen as the good guys,” Yonkers said.
Shepherdstown Police have four full-time and three part-time officers on staff under the direction of Sgt. Mike King, acting chief.
Shepherd University Police Department declined to participate in the story.
“We don’t have a ride-along program,” said John McAvoy, chief of Shepherd University Police.
Todd Bowman is a staff writer for The Picket and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @todd_bowman87.