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TV show reminded me to think about LEOs

It really can be amazing what goes on right under our noses. Sometimes I’ll be writing a crime story and think, “Wow. I can’t believe this was going on right across town.” But bad things do happen all around us, and sometimes the scope of the depravity is plain shocking.

As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I enjoy kicking back at night and watching TV and we like a lot of the same shows. One of them is the primetime news magazine show, “20/20.”

We don’t always get a chance to watch the show in actual primetime, so we often catch up later on Hulu. That means what we’re seeing maybe several weeks old. And that was the case a few nights ago when we sat down to watch “20/20” spotlight, an unsettling trend: conversion camps where kids and teens are often mentally and physically abused.

The show opened with the hosts talking about how these camps, usually meant to “convert” kids who identify as homosexual and usually religious in nature, can be found all over the nation, but they were spotlighting only three. As the show opened on a car driving down a rural highway, I thought, “Please don’t be in Alabama.” But, two of three were. It got worse. The first, and by far the worse of the three, was located in Prichard. The short version of this story is that kids were being sent to the “conversion camp” for all kinds of discipline problems – including homosexual behavior – and from all over the country. It was run by two men who claimed to be Christian ministers, but turned out to have criminal pasts and were eventually arrested for child abuse after going as far as striking the children and locking them in what they called isolation rooms for hours at a time.

One of the young men the show highlighted spent time in this now-abandoned camp in Prichard. Once it was shut down by police, he was sent to another camp in Robertsdale that turned out to use similar methods. Who knew this kind of thing could be happening in our own back yard? It’s downright scary.

But, I did find some ray of sunshine in the storm of the story. It was a Prichard Police Department detective who caught wind of the camp’s practices and fought an uphill battle, even against his own department and Montgomery, to get the place shut down. It didn’t happen, but the pressure forced the “ministers” to move their facility to Mobile, where police immediately raided it.

I mention that because it can be shocking sometimes to read the paper and see the behavior some locals engage in right here where we live. But, what often times is lost on us is the fact that those people aren’t doing those things anymore, because our men and women in blue took them off the streets. And I’ve heard the argument, “Well, they’ll be back out there doing it again next week.” And that may be true in some cases. But, if we think that frustrates us, imagine how vexing it must be those officers who have to go and stop that person again. But, they do it. They do it time and again, putting their safety on the line each and every time.

This was on my mind even before I watched “20/20,” because National Police Week is coming up May 11-17 and I hope people will take the time to honor those who serve and protect. It really is pretty amazing what they do, much of which almost no one sees.

Doing my job, I’ve ended up over the years with police officers, sheriff’s deputies and drug task force agents in some situations that escalated and got pretty intense pretty quickly. I’ve seen guns pulled, almost been knocked over in a foot chase and been told, “get behind me” more times than I can count. And let me tell you something: it’s scary.

I’ve walked away from most of those encounters thinking, “I could never be a police officer.” And I couldn’t. They deal with that kind of thing all the time. Just think about a day at work when you’ve come in sick or just tired and you struggle to get through your daily tasks. Now, imagine those tasks could include staring down the barrel of a gun or chasing someone on drugs. It’s not for the faint of heart.

So, whether it is something physically dangerous, or it is sticking to a case like the Prichard detective did, or it is one of the other million things police officers do to make our lives safer and just plain easier, they deserve our respect and appreciation. I know the young man who escaped that abusive camp sure agrees with me.

I hope this year during National Police Week we’ll all make a special effort to thank a police officer and tell them we appreciate what they do. We should really be doing that every day. The police don’t just protect and serve one week out of the year, after all.