With national debate raging about issues of police and race, a crowd of local residents converged on downtown Roswell Friday evening in a show of solidarity with law enforcement.
People brandishing signs with slogans such as “Back the Blue” and “Stay True to the Blue” lined the sidewalk in front of the Chaves County Courthouse on North Main Street and Pioneer Plaza for an event billed as a Back The Blue rally.
There was no official count on how many attended the peaceful event, but Juliana Halvorson, who organized the demonstration, said after the event that about 200 people attended.
Some people in attendance sported thin blue line flags, a common symbol honoring law enforcement, as motorists signified their support by honking their horns as they passed by the waving crowds.
Roswell Police officers and Chaves County deputies, both on and off duty, were in attendance, as marked police units were parked nearby with their emergency lights activated.
Many officers at the event though were not surprised by the outpouring of appreciation, saying it is consistent with what they see in the community.
“I love seeing that in Roswell our people actually do respect us and love us,” said Sgt. Ron Smith, who has been an officer with the Roswell Police Department since 2002.
Halvorson said the idea came to her for “Back the Blue” after seeing large volumes of what she described as “anti-police rhetoric.”
“It was Saturday morning, I was just sitting in my house. I contacted the city and contacted the county and nobody had planned to do anything, so I decided to do it,” she said.
The event is one of many that have taken place across the nation in the aftermath of large scale protests in response to several high profile incidents of police misconduct, including the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Most who were in attendance at Friday’s demonstration expressed support for law enforcement.
Brenda Morrow, a retired probation and parole officer at the event, said she has worked with police officers and has many friends and family in the profession.
“Pretty much if you cut me, I bleed blue,” she laughed.
Like most in attendance, she said the incidents of misconduct and excessive use of force are not reflective of the vast majority of the profession.
“You know, 99 percent of our officers are wonderful and they do their job all the time, with very little praise or income,” she said.
Most officers, she added, despise the few who do engage in wrongdoing, because it makes life harder for everyone who wears the uniform.
John Thoesen said he came to the event because he wants to stand up for police, especially in Chaves County.
“They are our first defense, they need our support now more then ever,” he said.
For Debbie and Steve Jones, the debate over police has a personal element.
The couple who stood wearing face coverings and sporting a thin blue line flag, have a daughter who is a police officer in Nebraska.
Debbie Jones said she thinks many of the people protesting against police misconduct are doing the same thing to her daughter that they are asking police not to do: judging them by the bad examples of other people.
“If my daughter would come out of that courthouse dressed in civilian clothes she would not be judged, she comes out of that courthouse dressed in her uniform, she’s going to be judged,” she said.
The judgement, Jones added, comes even though people don’t know her individual background as a police officer, her history and the recommendations she has received.
Officers also deal with ample pressure on the job. Not knowing when a situation can escalate, and they must maintain a heightened sense of awareness for their own safety.
“I think when they have that uniform on, they have to be on high alert at all times,” she said.
Debbie Jones added people often don’t know that like everyone else, police officers just try to make it home to their families.
Halvorson, whose late husband was an officer with the Roswell Police Department before he retired and served as a Chaves County magistrate judge, said many people do not realize the stress officers face on the job.
She remembers one instance when her husband came home in tears after one shift. That night he had held in his arms a two-year-old child who was struck by a car. That child had died in his arms.
Loved ones of an officer also feel the stress.
“Being a loved one is really hard because you don’t know if they are going to come home,” she said.
Roswell Police Chief Phil Smith said people in Roswell are largely supportive of law enforcement. He points to how people during the COVID-19 pandemic have brought food to the department for officers and how locals are willing to provide information to police.
Having been in law enforcement since 1984, he has seen police support nationally fluctuate, with opinions often influenced by national events.
The incidents of misconduct though, he said, are often a small percentage of the millions of encounters law enforcement have in communities each day.
Roswell, he said, does not always follow the national trend. However, he said the Roswell Police Department does its best to get ahead of national controversies before they take root locally.
He cites the fact that officers in the Department have undergone implicit bias training, where officers are made aware of the biases they have and learn how to adjust their behavior to avoid those.
In 2015, he said, the Roswell Police Department also became the first in the state to have its officers wear body cameras, something activists have been calling for to hold police accountable.
Smith lauds the cameras as one of the best pieces of technology for law enforcement that can not only help document misconduct, but help with training and provide evidence in cases.
“I always say to my troops, if we should be our best on most calls, why shouldn’t we have an unbiased witness, sitting on our shoulder or one on our forehead,” he said.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or firstname.lastname@example.org.