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Officers salute fallen brethren

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- "We aren't here to honor their deaths, for all men die. No, we're here to honor the way they lived and the sacrifices they made to keep us safe," a somber Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek said during Thursday's ceremony honoring the 10 peace officers who have died while on duty in Dougherty County.

Quoting everything from the biblical Beatitudes to Lincoln and Shakespeare, Cheek gave a poignant speech explaining both the significance of the day and the lives of the 10 people who died while on duty.

In his speech, Cheek vowed to exude a renewed vigor to finish the work left behind by the 10 honorees.

"Their work is unfinished. We go out 24/7, 365 days a year to protect our communities," Cheek said. "They gave their lives protecting this community we call home. They too were fighting to protect our way of life."

It's been a tough year for Cheek and the Dougherty Police Department.

In December, a space for the name of officer number 10, Lt. Cliff Rouse, was reserved in the annals of those killed in the line of duty when Rouse was shot while responding to a report of an armed robbery at a convenience store in southeastern Dougherty County.

Rouse's widow, Christine, and his family were on hand to personally pin a simple white flower into the DCP's wreath at the government center. The family also received myriad presentations and accolades from the DCP, the Albany Police Department and the Albany Police Department Alumni Association.

Cheek said that, like Rouse's family and co-workers, he turned to his spiritual faith to shore up his resolve and renew his physical and emotional strength to carry him through the dark days following Rouse's killing. He said that in those hours of reflection, he turned to scripture for answers.

"In the Beatitudes in Matthew it says 'Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God,'" the police chief said.

"Under the POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training) Act, we are officially called peace officers; not police officers, not deputy sheriffs, not state troopers, but peace officers. And I think that's very fitting."

The service Thursday is part of a national monthlong remembrance of the sacrifices made by police officers and their families, and according to agencies that keep track of the numbers, those sacrifices are being made at an increasingly high rate.

Men and women towing the thin blue line saw a record increase in law enforcement deaths in 2010, according to the Officer Down Memorial, a nonprofit agency that keeps track of law enforcement fatalities.

According to the agency, more than 160 officers from across the country died in 2010, which was up more than 31 percent from 2009.

Already in 2011, 70 officers have died in the line of duty, which is up 18 percent from the same time last year and is on pace to set a new record before the year is over.

The annual remembrance is hosted by the heads of all the law enforcement agencies within the county, from the Albany Police Department and its chief, John Proctor, to Sheriff Kevin Sproul and police agencies from Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany and the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport.