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The Line of Duty

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Law Enforcement Appreciation Day is this week, causing me to reflect on my law enforcement career, which has hit the 40-year mark. I entered law enforcement for two reasons. First, I’ve always felt a desire to help those in need. And I happened upon the second reason while in the academy: Police work is exciting. I’m not ashamed to say that.

The excitement — or potential for it — is what keeps officers engaged and on the job (although at my age, excitement has lost its luster). Excitement keeps you searching for the bad guy.

My Law Enforcement Journey

Law enforcement was not my initial career path. I started in emergency medical services (EMS). In 1979, I was certified as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and was working for a private ambulance service. My goal was to get into a fire department as a medic … until I found out that a 75-foot ladder would be involved in the application. Since I wasn’t keen on that (or fighting fires), I looked to other service roles.

An opening became available at the Licking County, Ohio, Sheriff’s Office as a jail medic, providing medical care for inmates. This paid better than the ambulance service, and no ladders were required. My duties facilitated interactions with deputies during their various shifts. It was there that I met Deputy Sheriff Barry K. Harper. In short order we became friends, and he urged me to enroll in the upcoming police training academy class run by the Sheriff’s Office.

I was approved to enter the academy and sworn in as an auxiliary deputy. I knew I had at last found my calling. After I completed training, I was cleared to begin field instruction. Barry was more than willing to let me ride along with him.

Learning Experiences

Although I rode with other deputies, I learned the most from Barry. We sought out as much “action” as we could find. He encouraged me toward my first full-time job as an Ohio Department of Liquor Control Undercover Investigator. I accepted in November 1981 and was assigned to the Cincinnati District Office.

In June 1982, I accepted a position with the Licking County Sheriff’s Office as an undercover narcotics detective. Although I was happy to be back home, due to my undercover work, I had to limit contact with the man who inspired me.

On Nov. 8, 1983, Deputy Barry K. Harper was in an on-duty traffic accident. He died at age 37, teaching me what a gut-wrenching experience a police funeral is. LEOs have dangerous jobs, and I’ve been to several funerals for officers over the years. Each time, I’m reminded of Barry and how I wish he could have seen my career unfold. You can see more about Deputy Barry Keith Harper at ODMP.org.

A Simple Reminder to Appreciate Law Enforcement

While I have been the recipient of much appreciation from civilians over the years, that has not always been the case. Some officers have been the recipients of more expressions of hatred (often exacerbated by social media) from the communities they serve than ever before. I’m grateful that I have never worked under those conditions.

It is difficult to continue doing an already taxing job when support — from those you serve as well as government — is lacking. Some in the career can’t withstand the pressure. More officers are dying at their own hands today than there are officers killed in the line of duty. Today’s law enforcement is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, and fewer people are interested in joining the profession. This leads to a nationwide shortage of qualified applicants.

On this day, please remember that police officers appreciate expressions of support. It really boosts the morale and drive to keep serving. My time on SWAT was some of the very best. But the job comes with sacrifices (long days and worrying family members). When you see a law enforcement officer on the street, please thank him or her for the service.

 

About Scott W. Wagner

After working undercover in narcotics and liquor investigations, Scott W. Wagner settled down to be a criminal justice professor and police academy commander. He was also a SWAT team member, sniper and assistant team leader before his current position as patrol sergeant with the Village of Baltimore, Ohio, Police Department. Scott is a police firearms instructor certified to train revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun.


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