With each flower, Chris Wright, the master of ceremonies for the 8th Annual Law Enforcement Memorial of Calhoun County, which took place Friday at the Justin Sollohub Justice Center, read out the name of the officer, and the day of their last call.
“I know that the name on this building means that this community does remember,” Wright said at the ceremony’s close, honoring Anniston police officer Justin Sollohub, whose own last call was in 2011. “And I hope when we meet again here in a year, we don’t add any names to this list, and we can look back at something we did to remember all these names.”
Friday’s ceremony was in recognition of National Law Enforcement week, an event Calhoun County Chief Deputy Matthew Wade said the Sheriff’s Office started seven years ago with a formation of the Sheriff’s Office honor guard. Since then, the Anniston Police Department and Oxford Police Department also formed their own honor guards that participated in this year’s ceremony.
“We don’t want this to be a Sheriff’s Office law enforcement memorial, we want it countywide, where everyone can come together and honor those who’ve made the sacrifice,” Wade said. “It’s a way we can encourage each other in what we do. A lot of times in our jobs we don’t get a lot of positive reinforcement.”
The threat of rain Friday kept the festivities inside instead of at Centennial Park like originally planned. But in a way, the change of venue to the newly opened Justin Sollohub Justice Center was fitting, Wade said.
“This isn’t just about Justin Sollohub, but it’s still a tribute,” Wade said.
While the Sheriff’s Office got the ceremony off the ground, in the last two years a group called Calhoun Women Behind the Badge has taken over the organization of the event. Jen Hartley, the wife of an Anniston police officer, and one of the women who laid down a white rose during the ceremony, said the group’s formation not only honors the men and women in uniform, but the sacrifices made by their family who support them.
“This isn’t just wives, but girlfriends and mothers and family,” Hartley said. “Because we’re the ones left behind after a tragedy.”
This year, Women Behind the Badge invited former Birmingham Police Sgt. Jim Henderson as guest speaker for the ceremony. Henderson, who runs the Alabama Law Enforcement Advocacy Group, spoke about not only the officers who died in the line of duty, but those who paid the ultimate sacrifice after they left their jobs.
“We drink too much, we party too much, we eat terrible food, we take too many anti-depressants,” Henderson said while calling attention to the high suicide rate of police officers in the United States. “That needs to change, and we need to look after each other.”
Wade said while the event pays tribute to the men and women who wear the badge, the ceremony is also a way to engage with the entire county.
“It kind of puts a shining light on us,” he said. “Instead of just us arresting bad guys, it kind of shows us in another light and shows who we are in the community.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.