City honors slain officers

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 12, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Even after 67 years, the eyes of Betty Pratt Roberts still get teary as she remembers the day a sheriff came to her mother, Maude Pratt, saying that her husband had been shot dead in the performance of his duties as a Suffolk Police officer.

Roberts said this is a tough week for her each May since it is the time when law enforcement in Suffolk observes &uot;Law Enforcement Memorial Day.&uot;

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Every May, Suffolk Police Officers, the Sheriff’s Office and Suffolk Lodge 41 Fraternal Order of Police honor Officer Joseph Pratt, who was killed in October 1935.

&uot;We lived in Kingsboro Heights back then and I was only 10 years old when Police Chief Henley (Monk) Churn came to our door to apologize for my father’s death,&uot; said Roberts, now a Courtland resident. &uot;I remember just screaming… I ran to Mr. Eure, the man who was hanging wallpaper in our house at the time and I just kept on screaming and screaming.&uot;

Even though Roberts’ father was taken from them at an early age, she still maintains deep respect for the law enforcement profession.

&uot;There were some bad people back then, but for the most part, they honored the men and women of law enforcement,&uot; said Roberts. &uot;I am so pleased with this Memorial Day service and I greatly admire the men and women of the Suffolk Police and Sheriff’s departments. They put their lives on the line every day and we must appreciate that.&uot;

Roberts said her father’s service as a police officer may have influenced a decision made by his granddaughter, Robbie Lynn Neave.

&uot;Robbie Lynn is a deputy sheriff for Southampton County,&uot; said Roberts. &uot;My father never knew her, of course, but she is just like him and we are so proud of her.&uot;

During Monday’s service in City Council Chambers, members of the police and sheriff’s department solemnly carried four large floral tributes in memory of all members of law enforcement slain in the past year. Today, they may be seen at the foot of the American flag in front of the Police Department at the corner of Wellons and Market streets.

Those flowers are there for the 147 &uot;brothers and sisters&uot; who lost their lives in the line of duty over the past year, said Police Lieutenant John Brooks.

&uot;We carry the memories of these fallen heroes with us every day as we continue to serve our communities,&uot; said Brooks. &uot;We were honored his year to have our own Sergeant Allen Iversen and Officer Tom Phippins participating in the &uot;Police Unity Tour,&uot; which left Saturday morning for the long bicycle ride to Washington, D.C.&uot;

As Brooks said, every member of law enforcement across Suffolk will offer prayers for the safe arrival of Iversen and Phippins, and other FOP Lodge $1 members will attend the nationwide ceremony in D.C.

Brooks also noted that two of Suffolk’s Motorcycle Officers, C.A. Duck and John Debusk will leave this morning for the nation’s capital where they will assist the United States Park Police in escorting officials for the Police Memorial Ceremonies.

Another speaker during Monday’s ceremony was Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney W. Randolph Carter Jr. As he pointed out, we have been fortunate in Suffolk. However, one police officer, Carl L. Wheeler, narrowly missed being shot to death when four men mistook him for a drug dealer with whom they’d had bad dealings. Officer Wheeler was only slightly injured.Carter also noted that since 1992, there has been an average of 163 deaths, 59,693 assaults and 18,995 injuries a year on members of law enforcement.

&uot;Other than the military, no other group in our country has faced such peril in performing their duties,&uot; said Carter. &uot;…on May 9, in Christiansburg, Va., Officer Scott Allen Hylton, age 43, was killed in the line of duty as he apprehended a shoplifting suspect. Another lesson learned was that no matter how routine the call, the officer is always exposed to danger.&uot;

Carter, a candidate for the clerk of court in Suffolk, also noted that law enforcement is not just a job, but also a profession.

He said their continuing education never stops and they strove to serve in a professional, knowledgeable manner while protecting and serving citizens of Suffolk.

&uot;There are no holidays for them,&uot; said Carter. &uot;They do no close because of bad weather, but instead, they are there for us.&uot;

Suffolk’s Law Enforcement Memorial Day is just one of hundreds across the nation that take place each year prior to the national celebration in Washington, D.C. It is held at the memorial site for slain officers.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial was authorized by an act of the United States Congress and was dedicated seven years later by President George Bush, on Oct. 15, 1991. It honors all of America’s federal, states and local peace officers. Inscribed on the Memorial’s blue-gray marble walls are the names of more than 14,300 men and women who have been killed in the line of duty, dating back to the first known death in 1794.

Designed by Washington, D.C., architect Davis Buckley, the Memorial sits on three acres of federal parkland called Judiciary Square, located on the 400 block of E Street, NW. The site has served for some 200 years as the seat of our nation’s judicial branch of government.

The names of the fallen officers are sandblasted into marble imported from Canada. Both walls containing the names are 304 feet long. There were 12,561 names on the Memorial when it was dedicated in 1991. New names are added in May, just prior to National Police Week. The walls are not yet half filled. Facing the grim reality that more officers will be killed, Memorial organizers left space for more names to be added. There is room for 42 lines on each panel, or a total of 29,233 names. If the current rate of death continues, the walls will be filled around the year 2100.