OXFORD — In an age of widespread domestic extremism, Brian Murphy says, a police officer would do well to wear a bulletproof vest.
"I want them to know to always wear their vest because that is the tool in the toolbox that you need,” said Murphy, a Oak Creek, Wis. police officer who was shot 15 times after responding to a 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple.
Murphy was a key speaker at a conference that drew more than 400 law enforcement officers from around the Southeast to the Oxford Performing Arts Center on Thursday.
The event was paid for and organized by the Oxford Police Department, U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Alabama and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Numerous speakers were featured at the event, with the common theme focusing on the protection and promotion of domestic security.
Rick Schwin, special agent in charge of FBI Birmingham, had a hand in the organization of the training event and said the knowledge taught to officers transcends state borders and geographic location.
“This is specifically about groups who have been posing a greater danger to uniformed law enforcement,” he said. “We have given seminars on sovereign citizens and militia groups and we had a great speaker with Lt. Brian Murphy.”
Murphy was the first officer on the scene of a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. He lived to tell his story, Schwin said, to help educate other officers on the dangers of domestic extremism.
“It is a great story of survival but also underscores how dangerous these guys are because the shooter was a domestic extremist and a member of the Hammerskin Nation,” he said.
In 2012, Wade Michael Page, a member of the white-supremacist Hammerskin Nation group, killed six and wounded four at the temple in Oak Creek, Wis., before turning the gun on himself. Murphy, who is now retired from the Oak Creek Police Department, was one of the injured.
Following his seminar, he left the hundreds of police officers in attendance with the knowledge he gained through his personal experiences. He said that his advice to police was simple, but could save their lives.
“You also need the mindset that you can’t stop and give up or mail it in, and if you are awake, and can keep yourself calm, you have a good chance of living,” he said.
The speaker stressed that officers should be mindful of their jurisdictions and who may pose a threat.
“These incidents just seem to be getting brought more to the forefront,” he said. “Copycats get spawned, and many people will find this as an avenue to gain recognition.”
Cpl. Ricky Gaither of the Jacksonville State University Police Department, said Murphy was an inspiration to law enforcement and was his favorite speaker of the day.
“Most of the stuff was new, but it was information on different types of sovereign groups and how they do things, like tactics and different types of paperwork they may show us,” he said. “It was a good update we needed to be made aware of.”
Another officer, Deputy Joe Franklin of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, said he took away a wealth of valuable information following the different speakers and seminars.
“We learned about some of the hazards going on and the dangers going on out there,” he said. “It’s about being alert and knowing stuff to look out for. I don’t want to go into a whole lot because of the sensitivity of it, but I did learn a whole lot.”
Schwin, who has helped organize training events since 2010, said Oxford was chosen as the location so they could reach out to officers in this area.
“We’ve probably done six of these since 2010 and we wanted to make sure we were reaching out to our brothers here and to an audience we haven’t yet reached,” he said. “It’s also a fantastic venue.”