CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
BURNET — Burnet Police Chief Paul Nelson says his agency strives to give the community a sense of ownership in the police department.
“We try to reach out to the community. We help them out. We allow them to feel like they’re a part of the department,” Nelson said. “It’s easier to come to work knowing we have the community’s backing.”
Recent attacks against officers in the past several months across the nation have heightened awareness about a lack of support elsewhere.
“In the big picture of the nation, there may not be as much backing,” Nelson said.
In August 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown, tipping off a firestorm of protests in the city. In the coming months, there were a series of premeditated slayings of police officers across the country, which some officials believe were driven by anti-police rhetoric.
Two high-profile cases were:
• December 2014 — Brooklyn officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were shot by a gunman while they sat in their patrol cars.
• August 2015 — Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth was shot execution-style at a gas station while he was filling up his patrol car.
Shortly after the Harris County slaying, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch addressed the spate of shootings, commenting that she “strongly condemn(s) these recent and brutal police shootings. … This wide violence against all of us — regardless of what uniform any of us wear — has to end.”
In the shadow of the attacks, family, friends and supporters of officers have launched movements to show their support for law enforcement.
One such event, See you at the Station, sparked by a social media network, happened Sept. 23 in at least 23 states and involved tens of thousands of people.
The event’s name was derived from the faith-based movement See you at the Pole, during which Christian students meet annually Sept. 23 at the flagpole in front of their local school before the start of classes for prayer and worship.
Burnet County organizers will host a See You at the Station event Sept. 30 and invite residents to show their support for men and women in local law enforcement.
The appreciation rally is 6 p.m. at Wallace Riddell Park, located on Texas 29 East at Rhomberg Street.
“With the recent events, violence and negativity that’s been directed at our law enforcement officers, we thought it was important to have some kind of event to show that this community backs them, supports them,” coordinator Katherine McAnally said. “We thought it was important to have plenty of room. A large showing of people would really prove the point to our officers during a time when they really need it.”
The park is adjacent to the Burnet Police Department.
“The risks are there, and they’re growing more so than they’ve ever been,” coordinator Lisa Whitehead said. “With all of the negative attention that they’re getting right now, we do just want to let them know Burnet County does appreciate the sacrifices that they make.”
The show of support extends beyond the dangers officers face when protecting and serving the community.
“It can be anything from protecting the highways to something as small as helping an elderly neighbor change a light bulb,” Whitehead said. “We (should) pray for them and be present in a show of support … just to keep their morale up.”
Organizers are asking the public to wear blue that day as well.
Nelson said such displays will keep communication open and help forge a strong bond between law enforcement and the community.
“There is no wall. Everybody works well with each other,” Nelson said. “When a community attacks law enforcement, they put a wall up. It’s hard to knock that down because (officers) will feel like there are people after them out there. We don’t feel like that here in Burnet County. We’re very lucky to work in communities like Burnet and Burnet County where they definitely back first responders, police, fire and EMS.”
McAnally added, “It has been a very difficult time over the last few months for officers and their families. A large presence (at the event) would really serve to comfort them.”