GEORGETOWN — From New Castle County to Sussex County, all points in between and even across the Maryland border, the message was loud and clear Monday: A lot of people “back the blue.”
A week after law enforcement and a grieving community paid final respects to Delmar Police Cpl. Keith Heacook, who died in the line of duty during a physical altercation in late April, support for police officers rang out from The Circle in Georgetown at a law enforcement appreciation rally.
“There are still a lot of people out there that are in support of law enforcement. With everything that is going on, we want them to know that we are here, we are behind them, and we support them 100%,” said Dover resident John Boone, among the Delaware Patriot Guard Riders in attendance.
“People are saying all these police officers should just quit because all law enforcement is bad. That is not true. If you do that, you are going to have complete chaos and anarchy. You need law enforcement. You need these people here. And that is why we are here, to make sure they know that we need them.”
Several hundred people in attendance Monday heard from state, county and local elected officials, police chiefs and citizens.
The gathering, held just after National Police Week, was spearheaded by state Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, who also organized a rally in 2020. The town of Georgetown assisted in staging the event, which is expected to officially become annual.
“This is a night for the community to show support to our law enforcement. I think it is important that we recognize that, as elected leaders, … they support law enforcement here in Delaware, as well,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “And although sometimes, you hear certain things within some of the media, look around tonight … at the men and women that are elected to represent you. To all of you that wear the uniform, there should be no doubt that we have your back.”
A similar sentiment was shared by Sussex County Council President Michael Vincent.
“They said a while ago, we should do this once a year,” he said. “We should probably do it every night — in our own hearts. Thank you for all you do for us. We pray for you every night, and I would say on top of that, a special prayer for the families. They only know what you put up (with) that we don’t.”
State Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, who followed in his father’s footsteps with a 24-year career with the Delaware State Police, said the show of support is welcome and needed.
“It means a lot to these people in uniform to see that you support them,” he said. “What matters is that you get together and you support us in times that we are not very well-liked. The cop-haters are back. They were here in the 1960s and ’70s. I remember my father coming home from work and kids throwing bottles at his police car, calling him ‘Pig,’ oink-oinking him.
“Gentlemen, ladies, that are wearing their uniforms, please don’t put down your badge. Better times are going to come,” said Rep. Smyk.
That was echoed by Georgetown Mayor Bill West.
“We thank you for this opportunity to come together tonight to honor the Thin Blue Line, to think of law enforcement officers, the men and women that leave the house every day and don’t know if they are going to come home,” said the mayor, who also had a career in law enforcement. “It’s a thankless job. It’s a job that not everybody can do. But there is a lot of good people that do this job because they want to help and serve the community.”
Delmar Police Chief Ivan Barkley spoke of the difficult time his department has been experiencing, as well as the immense outpouring of support, after the death of Cpl. Heacook, a 22-year veteran.
“I am proud to be here. I am proud to see a community that stands up behind its law enforcement because, I’ve got to tell you, a few days or a few weeks ago, I was at a pretty low spot,” the chief said. “I wasn’t really sure how the community felt about us. But after seeing the outpour from the communities and from Delmarva in general, I knew I made the right decision, where I am supposed to be, the guys that I am supposed to be with. One of things that you know is when you think you are at your lowest times, you pray, and you lean on friends. And I found out I’ve got a heck of a lot of friends.”
There were some religious and political overtones at the gathering Monday.
Paraphrasing from the Bible, Georgetown Police Chief R.L. Hughes stated, “Then, I heard the voice of the Lord say, ‘Whom shall we send? Who will go for us?’ And then, Cpl. Heacook said, ‘Here am I. Send me.’”
Several elected officials said they do not believe law enforcement is receiving the backing it deserves at the state level.
“I believe that God speaks to us. I believe if we are listening, God speaks to us,” said state Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford. “I think there (are) a lot of legislators in Legislative Hall right now that aren’t listening to God, … and I’d like to help them retire.
“Delmar lost a hero — Cpl. Keith Heacook. It’s hard to lose something like that. He gave his life to protect others,” said Sen. Richardson, turning to the officers present. “You know where we stand, and we know that we stand with you and beside you and will do anything that we can within our power to help you. God bless you all.”
Seaford Police Chief Marshal Craft Jr. applauded funding that is being made available to assist law enforcement in diversion programs, crisis-intervention training, veteran training and mental health.
“Law enforcement has got to come under the understanding that we have got to provide alternative solutions and resources for people at their worst. We can’t just walk away. We’re getting funding now to help with that,” Chief Craft said. “We send you out into the community in a very dangerous situation. Anything can happen. Nothing is routine. And you deserve to have the best pay. You deserve to have the best equipment. You deserve to have the respect of the community.”
Representatives of several motorcycle groups made the trip to Georgetown for the rally. The Delaware Patriot Guard Riders were joined by Bikers Without Borders and the Hogs and Heroes Foundation.
“We’ve been together for years,” said Joe Baumann of the Worcester County, Maryland-based Bikers Without Borders. “It’s basically a chapter filled with all kinds of members from all walks of life that just want to support their community. Tonight, we’re supporting ‘back the blue’ — absolutely.”
Magnolia resident John Greene, state director of the Hogs and Heroes Foundation, cast his organization’s support and shared plans for a huge event in September.
“Bottom line is we’ve got to show these guys that we back the police. Everyone was afraid. They were afraid to go to rallies and show support,” said Mr. Greene. “(Police) have got a rough job. They just need to know we’ve got their back. And the people do. But people were afraid. I think finally they are coming out, showing that we back you and we support you, and we outnumber the ones against them. The other side was really vocal and loud. Now, we need to stand up and show that we got their back.”
Sept. 25 is the target date for the statewide Concerns of Police Survivors Ride, Mr. Greene said. More information will be made available as plans are finalized.
Janyce Colmery, who traveled from New Castle County to attend the event, said the world needs to go back to the time when police were viewed as your friends, not public enemies.
“When I grew up, we grew up with ‘Officer Friendly.’ We were taught as kids and teenagers that if you are in trouble, if you’re sacred, if you are lost, anything, find a cop and run to that cop because they are going to help you; they are going to protect you,” said Ms. Colmery, whose late husband was in law enforcement. “And that’s not being taught anymore. There is a fraction of people out there that want to teach our kids: ‘Bad cops. Don’t go near them.’ I just want to ring necks.”
Chief Craft said he does not sense a massive anti-police movement locally.
“It’s a tragedy. Everybody is hurting (with) Keith Heacook passing away. We’ve had multiple people (in the country) killed in the line of duty since Keith has passed away,” he said. “I think now, more than ever, having this event means so much more than we could ever probably tell you. We know that we have support. We have conversations in our community every day, and I don’t see in my community what we are seeing out in Seattle and other states around the country. I don’t see that here.”