FORSYTH -- Every time a slain law enforcement officer was laid to rest in Middle Georgia, Monroe County Sheriff John Cary Bittick prayed his deputies would be safe.
With the memory of slain Deputy Michael Norris in his mind, Bittick welcomed hundreds of officers Wednesday morning to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.
Bittick is helping host a special two-day training seminar this week in Forsyth to curb on-duty deaths and injuries while preserving civil rights and liberties.
“If there’s one thing that any of us can do to help one officer survive a bad situation, then that’s what we need to do because one is one too many, no matter where it is,” Bittick said.
The men and women from police departments and sheriff’s officers from across the state are learning to better protect themselves through VALOR, the U.S. Attorney General’s Officer Safety Initiative -- Preventing Violence Against Law Enforcement And Ensuring Officer Resilience and Survivability.
The initiative began in 2010 after an alarming increase in law enforcement deaths.
The training takes on greater significance in the wake of officer-involved deaths in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.
“The law enforcement community has had a rough couple of years,” U.S. Attorney Michael Moore told the officers. “You’ve taken some hits from things that have happened ... tarnished by bad apples.”
Law enforcement experts from across the nation will be reinforcing safety measures and planting new thoughts to improve professionalism during the conference.
Twiggs County Sheriff Darren Mitchum told the presenter his main goal is making sure all his deputies make it home after their shift.
In September in Monroe County, Norris was fatally shot and Deputy Jeff Wilson was wounded while responding to a report of a suicidal man.
“Whether you face a threat from an ambush or an uncertain domestic situation ... know we care,” Moore said, referencing Monroe’s deputies. “Let’s remember that sacrifice as we do this training.”
Lt. Kelly DeVoll, of the Georgetown Police Department in Texas, warned against officers adversely reacting to increased scrutiny.
“We’re under a microscope, and it’s frustrating,” DeVoll said.
He encouraged the officers to go back to their agencies, dust off their policy manuals and read the mission statement.
“It’s going to mention words like honor, integrity, professionalism, fairness, trust and leadership -- all words important to us,” he said.
The mind-set should not be about arrest numbers but service.
Officers should treat others better than people would expect.
“You don’t have to hug everyone you come across, you don’t have to kiss their behinds, but you need to be professional,” he said. “We are under a microscope, and we should be because we have been given the right, power and responsibility.”
Bibb County Sheriff’s Capt. Andra Grinstead appreciated the pep talk and encouragement the opening session provided.
“I really wish they could have it where everyone can get to it,” Grinstead said.
Moore encouraged the officers to lobby for Congress to keep funding the $15 million VALOR project that provides free training across the country.
Crawford County Sheriff Lewis Walker said training refreshes safety techniques and increases enthusiasm for veteran officers.
“Sometimes we get in a comfort zone,” Walker said. “Don’t take it for granted, take it seriously because what you learn may help you get home safely.”
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.