May 15, 2013

‘The first and last line of defense’

Officers honored for their service

Rachel Brown
rachelbrown@daltoncitizen.com

— Dec. 22, 1956.

Dalton Police Officer Maurice K. Phillips Sr. was training a new officer on quick draw techniques with unloaded firearms inside Dalton City Hall. When they finished, the officer left the room while Phillips reloaded.

Then the officer who was being trained walked back into the room and broke one of the cardinal rules of handling firearms. He assumed the gun was unloaded. He pointed it at Phillips to show him he had mastered the new technique, fired and hit him in the chest.

Phillips died three days later on Christmas Day.

That was the last time a Dalton police officer has died on duty. The department recognized Phillips Tuesday morning during a ceremony on the lawn of Dalton City Hall commemorating Peace Officers’ Memorial Day and National Police Week.

His son, Rich Phillips, who attended along with several family members, said the family was thankful for the recognition. The ceremony included Police Chief Jason Parker formally presenting the family with a folded flag.

Officer Phillips had been with the police department about eight years at the time of his death. He left behind a wife, Maria, and three children. Rich Phillips was 5 when his father died, his siblings Tom and Maurice Jr. were 18 months and 10 years old, respectively.

“I remember doing things with dad,” Rich Phillips said, recalling a city-issued motorcycle his father rode on his shift. “I couldn’t ride on it, but I could sit on it.”

Granddaughter Meleia Bridenstine said her grandmother has told her many stories over the years about Officer Phillips. She remembers hearing about the man in his uniform, how respectful he was — and of the family he left behind. People would one day relate to her how “the whole town stopped” after his death. Now retired police Sgt. Pat Meyers worked successfully last year to get Phillips’ story on the Officer Down Memorial Page website, odmp.org.

Those are the kinds of stories law enforcement agencies across the nation are telling this week. Lt. Jamie Johnson said officials hope to expand the ceremony next year to include more public participation and members of other law enforcement agencies.

Most of the department’s 127 officers participated in a procession in which they walked in uniform from the Police Services Center to Waugh Street to City Hall. A color guard presented the flags, and a bagpiper played. One person read the names of every law enforcement officer who died on duty in Georgia and nearby Tennessee cities aloud — nine of them since the last Peace Officers’ Memorial Day.

Public Safety Commission Chairman Bill Weaver said Dalton officers have handled 13,000 calls since Jan. 1, an average of 100 a day.

“No matter what the emergency, no matter what corner of our nation, or of our community, when help is needed, it’s always the local officer who is first to respond,” Parker said. “To every officer here, every man and woman who serves with distinction, you are the first and the last line of defense for our community; you make the difference between a community living in uncertainty or living in peace.”

Mayor David Pennington read a proclamation recognizing the work of law enforcement officers.

“There’s no such thing as a great community that is not a safe community,” Pennington said.

National Police Week began in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy declared May 15 to be National Peace Officers’ Memorial Day, and the week in which the 15th falls to be a week honoring police officers.