They’ve seen the spray-painted sign put up overnight on State Road 37, and read through every card that a child has made.
They’ve enjoyed made-from-scratch goodies and the baskets of flowers and cupcakes.
And the handshakes. Oh, the handshakes. The delivery drivers who have gone out of their way to walk over. The gas station customer who came up to the police officer to say thanks. The Vietnam veteran who said he knew what it felt like to lose your comrades and that their work and risk mattered.
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Area police officers have always felt the appreciation of Johnson County residents, but the community’s response in light of recent police shootings has been overwhelming and treasured, officers said.
“I just can’t believe how many people have poured out their thanks,” Greenwood police Lt. Brian Blackwell said. “It’s telling the rest of us to go on, push on, and don’t quit when things get frustrating. There are people out there who need you, depend on you, and they outnumber those bad people.
“The way this community has been coming out, I know that these people have our back.”
And residents have gone out of their way to capture police in action, doing far more than answering calls for help or stopping motorists.
A resident took a photo as Franklin police officer Jason Hyneman stopped to give a ride to a woman pushing a child in a stroller that had been caught in a downpour and shared it on social media.
Another person captured Franklin police officer Joe Dillon who paused during his bike patrol at the Johnson County fair to chat with children at the nearby Head Start preschool. Then he was off his bike, playing with the children. The resident posted the photo to social media, writing, “I just thought with all the negative images going around lately, we could all use a positive one.”
And Sheriff Doug Cox got a thank-you call from a resident who saw a deputy passing out popsicles in neighborhoods last weekend during the blistering heat. The sheriff had to do some digging to figure out who was behind it; the deputy didn’t want praise and had done it on his own time.
Cox said that local police have the responsibility, too, of giving back and helping the public.
Officers need to push for change in how they are viewed by the public through personal interactions, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Col. Randy Werden said.
The perception of officers affects everyone in law enforcement, he said.
So if officers and deputies can work to make every interaction with the public the best it can be, that will be the biggest way to change that perception, he said.
“We can change it one encounter at a time, make it a good encounter, and change that perception one at a time,” Werden said.
That’s what sheriff’s office Sgt. Mike Rogier was doing when he dug into his own pocket to buy diapers for a family that wasn’t going to get a paycheck for several days but was down to the final diaper.
The woman’s husband was being taken to jail because he had been in a fight with a man, and while waiting on the jail van to arrive, Rogier sent a fellow deputy to buy diapers. The woman was initially concerned that she would be in trouble regarding the care of her child, but that wasn’t what Rogier had in mind. He just wanted to help her.
“I always try to leave people better than I found them,” said Rogier, who has been a full-time deputy for 29 years.
This wasn’t the first time he’s helped families. He doesn’t put it in his incident reports. He doesn’t tell his supervisors. He does his job and stays out of the limelight. But changing a person’s tire or getting someone a meal are part of his job, as he sees it.
“You’ve got to be a police officer, but you’re still human at the same time,” Rogier said. “I love making a difference if I can. It’s how I was raised.”
And remember the thank-you call about the deputy with popsicles? Cox learned that was the work of deputy Jason Wienhorst, who was putting on his 20 pounds of gear one afternoon before starting his night shift. He’d been out in his neighborhood earlier, and it was a hot day, so decided he could pay back the community for recent support by driving around the county and passing out popsicles — before his shift started, not on the taxpayers’ clock.
He’s been a deputy for 12 years and worked patrol for nearly nine years. Residents have been thanking him for his work at restaurants, gas stations and even on calls. Residents go out of their way to stop deputies in neighborhoods to say thanks.
“It’s been through the roof,” Wienhorst said. “I wanted to show my appreciation to everyone who has shown appreciation to us.”
He wants to do anything he can to make the best relationships between the public and police, and he especially wants children to see that police aren’t the bad guys, he said. Too often children see police during the scary moments, when they or their families are in a bad situation. He wants to show them another perspective. So he drove to parks and neighborhoods near Franklin and handed out popsicles while he chatted with people outside.
Franklin police officer Greg Reichert was working on his paperwork when a Vietnam veteran came to his squad car to say thank you. He told Reichert that he had served three tours in Vietnam and understood how officers felt after the Dallas shooting.
“He shook my hand and told me to keep my head ‘on a swivel’ and to be safe,” Reichert said. “That one, coming from a vet of such a tough war, meant a lot.
“I know people appreciate us. I think, much like military, it’s hard for people to say something. When we are at war, it gets much easier to walk to up that soldier and say thanks. Honestly, I don’t really know what to say in return. I usually end up thanking the person right back.”
Beyond saying thanks or having children draw cards, residents often aren’t sure how to show appreciation other than turn to the gesture of providing food. And lots of it.
Last week, in a five-day period, Blackwell had one breakfast and five dinners purchased for him. He tried to talk people out of it. In some cases, the bill is paid anonymously before his check comes. He pays it forward by giving the server a 50 or 60 percent tip and buying a meal for someone else.
Whenever he learns who has paid for his meal, he strikes up a conversation, and it sometimes leads to police in the news, cellphone footage of every interaction and the public jumping to opinions without knowing all the facts. Other times, he gets to know children. While at dinner with his parents, five people came to the table to thank him and say that they supported police.
“My mom just looked at me and said that is just absolutely incredible,” Blackwell said.
He senses that parents are talking to their children more about what has happened and encouraging children to trust police. On Monday, he was eating at Fazoli’s and teased a young boy who was holding a $20 bill, but the boy in fact was planning to buy Blackwell’s meal. The officer resisted and finally relented and said he would take the cheapest meal with a water.
The family was having none of that — Blackwell was to keep the change. Instead, he bought them cookies.
Greenwood Police Deputy Chief James Ison experienced much the same when he took on a night shift patrol recently and met his family for dinner at Four Seasons. A man tried to give him $20 for his meal, but Ison wouldn’t accept the money. Unbeknownst to him, the man went to the register and put the money towards his bill. The manager wasn’t sure what to do — because another customer had already paid the bill.
Ison’s resolution: put the money towards the next customer.
Police departments have gotten calls offering to shine officers’ shoes, detail their cars and for more food.
“It’s not about the free stuff,” Ison said. “It’s about them reaching out and saying ‘we appreciate you.’”
Blackwell knows that residents don’t know what to do to show appreciation other than provide a meal.
“It’s that thought that means more than anything,” Blackwell said.
The interactions and feedback have reinvigorated Blackwell, who has been on the force for 26 years.
While they mourn the police officers who lost their lives, but they also see that it in some ways it has helped police reconnect with the local community.
“It has done so much to boost morale because we are just so used to dealing with the bad, the bad in people. It’s great to see the good,” Blackwell said.
Franklin police Chief Tim O’Sullivan met with a woman and child who wanted to thank officers for their work, and he learned that her husband was in the military and flew on Black Hawk helicopters. He ended up thanking the family for their service.
“Franklin is a really cool community, and we are really blessed,” O’Sullivan said. “We want to make it better.”
City View Farm Apartments in Franklin has turned their lights blue and is hosting special events for police starting Monday.
More than 90 exterior porch lights have been turned blue in honor of local and national police. The lights will stay blue through Aug. 7 at the community at 1037 W. Jefferson St.
Sixtus Property Management is hosting free events for police and first responders next week.
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday: Hot dogs on the City View Farmhouse patio
7:30 a.m. Wednesday: Donuts and coffee in the Farmhouse
9 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Cookies in the Farmhouse
Noon to 4 p.m. Friday: Free snow cones from Lickity Slick Snowball Shop at the apartment complex
Turn your porch light blue
Irish Brothers Pest Control has free blue light bulbs for residents wanting to show their support for police. Pick up the bulbs at the Irish Brothers office at 296 E. Jefferson St., Franklin.