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A salute to good law enforcement
Jeff Whitten NEW
Jeff Whitten is managing editor of the Bryan County News and Coastal Courier, his favorite papers. - photo by File photo

I didn’t know Long County Sheriff’s Deputy Sheldon Whiteman, but I wish I had. He sounds like the sort of man who gives law enforcement a good name. 

But the simple truth is the same can be said of most of the cops I’ve ever been around. 

While every profession has its bad apples, including mine, by and large the cops and deputies and firefighters and paramedics and EMTs out there are an under-valued, under-appreciated bunch who come in all sorts of sizes, shapes and skin colors, just like people. 

But law enforcement, yeah, them especially. Nobody likes a cop around until they need one, and then look at what we expect them to do.

We ask the Whitemans of our world to do much these days, from refereeing the silliest of disputes to risking their lives to keep the peace and protect lives and property from those who have no respect for either. 

They do so while under near constant scrutiny and armchair quarterbacking where one wrong step can land you up a creek without a paddle or a boat from which to wish you had one.  Or worse. 

As a former Georgia State Patrol commander put it at some function or another I covered a decade or so ago, law enforcement officers face the ever more difficult task of “riding herd” over an increasingly restless public that would just as soon not be bothered. And that was 10-plus years ago. We’re at a whole new level of restless these days. 

I was reminded of that on I-95 not long ago when a wreck slowed traffic to about 5 mph. You’d think it would be impossible to drive aggressively or have road rage at 5 mph. Think again.

Granted, sometimes cops, just like people in any other profession, are their own worst enemies. There are those who abuse their power, though if things work as they’re supposed to the bad ones are punished. But I’d bet my house law enforcement tends to get it more right than wrong.  

Back in 2017, there was an effort by Georgia sheriffs to get a special local option sales tax passed to help counties pay their deputies better. I think it hit a stump somewhere, and that’s too bad. After all, if we’ll pay pennies on a dollar to build schools and pave roads, surely we should look at doing the same to make sure deputies like Whiteman and other public safety personnel are better compensated for standing watch over our communities. 

And if a penny sales tax isn’t the answer, then find an answer that will work. Because even if we all think we deserve more money, good cops and firefighters and paramedics really deserve more. 

While I’m on the subject, the best copper I ever knew was Maj. Thomas Cribbs – and I still l have a lot of respect for his second-in-command at the time, the retired Capt. Chris Reid. 

Cribbs and Reid both had the patience of a saint when it came to dealing with dumb reporters like yours truly. Especially maybe when dealing with dumb reporters like me. 

I don’t know if that sort of patience is possible nowadays. I know I don’t have time to build the same relationship with cops I used to when I covered them as part of my beat. I wish I did. Those were some of the best times of my career. 

Nowadays there’s little time to invest in knowing the people we cover due to changes in our business, but maybe it’s also due to changes in people. 

There seems less trust on their part about us, and there seems less trust on our part about them, and I think we’ve gotten more cynical about each other without really knowing why. 

Of course, we all tend to paint those we don’t know very well with broad brushes, they just seem broader than ever now.   

 I was reminded of the sometimes strained relationship between the “media” and police some years ago when I introduced myself to someone in law enforcement whose father I’d covered a time or two over the years. I was trying to be friendly and mentioned that and the answer was “that’s funny, he never mentioned you to me.” 

I wanted to respond “well, he never mentioned you to me, either, so I guess we’re even,” but I didn’t. I’m in one of those jobs where folks you don’t even know won’t hesitate to tell you what a clown you are. It’s of no consolation when they’re right, of course, but still. 

The truth is there are acts of bravery committed every day by the men and women who wear the uniforms of local law enforcement and public safety agencies.  

You don’t read about most of them in newspapers anymore because there aren’t near as many reporters to go around.  

You read about Sheldon Whiteman — a father, husband and provider — because he was doing his job in the middle of the night and it cost him his life. That’s something these men and women face every time they go to work, but go to work they do.  That’s what brave people do. 

Rest in peace, Deputy Whiteman, and thank you for your service.  

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