Hundreds of local law enforcement officers gathered Wednesday at the Anniston City Meeting Center to celebrate National Police Week with free food, door prizes and a message from a guest speaker.
Henry Mullinax, the president of the Alabama Law Enforcement Appreciation Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting law enforcement in Calhoun and Cleburne Counties, said the foundation has spent the week feeding officers with free, catered meals at the meeting center.
“We deal with a lot of negative aspects of everything in the world,” Heflin police chief A.J. Benefield said. “When someone’s appreciative of it and gives you a ‘thank you,’ it definitely goes a long way in today’s world.”
Mullinax said the weeklong celebration will culminate Friday, when a memorial service will be held at noon at the Alabama Law Enforcement Memorial at the corner of 17th Street and Quintard Avenue. Mullinax said the names of three officers killed in Alabama this year will be added to the monument.
According to Mullinax, Gov. Kay Ivey and state attorney general Steve Marshall will be at the ceremony.
Piedmont police Sgt. Nathan Johnson said he feels that police are portrayed negatively by the media. However, he said, he has felt an increase in community support for law enforcement this year and the police week celebrations show that.
“It shows us that there are more people out there than we know that actually support law enforcement, because the media is so focused on the negativity,” Johnson said. “Seeing the actual support from the community is refreshing.”
On Wednesday, Tim Faulk, who identified himself as “The Crisis Doctor,” spoke about the decline in suicide rates among officers this year. In 2019, he said, there were 78 documented cases of police suicides.
However, Faulk said, the suicide rate among officers is still nearly double the rate of officers killed by other people.
“Most of us know full well that performing in today’s society is full of emotional speedbumps, and high-stress events. Symptoms can occur after officer-involved shootings, shootings, chases, barricades, hostage-takings, accidents, multiple body counts, grotesque scenes, incidents involving children,” Faulk said. “The list goes on and on.”
With a combination of work stressors and everyday life problems, Faulk said, it’s easy to understand how an officer could feel overwhelmed.
However, Faulk said, a quality peer support group could have a positive impact on participating officers.
Mullinax said the foundation was started by Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh six years ago, initially as a committee.
Mullinax said Eli Henderson and his family, with the help of former Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson, fed 35 officers during the first year.
The second year, Mullinax said, the foundation fed officers breakfast, but started feeding them lunch the third year due to conflicts with some officers’ shifts. Mullinax said the foundation acquired its nonprofit status early 2018 to accommodate for its growth.
Benefield said this is the second year law enforcement from Cleburne County has gotten involved with the celebration.
Anniston police Sgt. Michael Webb commended the foundation for organizing a week’s worth of celebrations for law enforcement.
“Them coming up and talking to us and saying ‘thank you,’ that appreciation that they show is amazing. I think all the guys appreciate that, and this event is just that magnified,” Webb said. “They go above and beyond to put this thing on, and I know all our guys see the time and the effort that goes into it.”