In 1956, I was a student at St. Mary School. Each morning, all the students lined up to go to Mass at our church which was just a short distance from the school. Though it wasn’t far, students had to cross Jefferson Street, Decatur Street and Central Avenue to get there.
I always felt safe though because Officer Floyd Churchwell was there making sure all the kids made it to church and back safely. Churchwell was the first African-American officer on the Sandusky Police Department. He was tall — very tall in the eyes of a little girl — and he always had a kind word and a smile. It was a time when kids were taught that policemen were our friends — peace officers who chose to make a living protecting us.
The only other officer I knew was a neighbor, Rich Smith. He was with the Sandusky force for years and then went on to be chief in Castalia. He also was an imposing figure and a heck of a nice guy.
With him in the neighborhood and Officer Churchwell in my school neighborhood, I knew I had nothing to worry about.
A decade and a half later, I was part of the generation who had an entirely different view of law enforcement personnel. To hippies, war protesters, and free thinkers, cops were the enemy — the Man and pigs. We learned to avoid them and disparaged the profession whenever we had a chance.
I don’t think policemen had changed. I think it was the world that changed. Authority figures had to be wrong or the world wouldn’t be so messed up. Right?
I remember telling my children that I didn’t care what career they chose as long as it wasn’t ax murderer, televangelist or cop. I might have been a little dramatic there, but the respect I had for lawmen was gone. I’m sure many of the officers in that era were fine, upstanding men and women. But, like all prejudices, the “one label fits all” was faulty thinking and short-sighted. Sorry, guys. I was wrong. Well, sort of.
The whole inspiration for this column was a couple of photos recently published in the Register.
In one, the top cops in our area are pictured leading the torch run for the Special Olympics. In the other, Chief Orzech is selling popcorn at the Red Wagon.
These cops and many like them are out and about making sure that we know it is not “us” and “them” We are all “us”
Make no mistake, cops are cops and they will do their job whenever necessary. But that’s not all they do. They are putting pride back into the profession and giving new meaning to the term Community Police.
Capt. Churchwell would have been proud.
See you next week. Be kind Kathy .