By Hayley Kappes
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – Betiale Hawkins did not recognize any names of the fallen officers read aloud in front of the Bell County Courthouse Thursday morning, but in a sense, they were family.
Hawkins joined the Harker Heights Police Department in February after graduating from the police academy. He wanted to join the force to help others.
"It's a very important and dangerous job," Hawkins said. "I always wanted to serve the community. To know other people are willing to sacrifice their lives for this job is very powerful."
Officers from policing agencies across Bell County honored their fallen colleagues from across the country in recognition of Police Memorial Day, a part of National Police Week.
Last year, 133 policemen and women lost their lives in the line of duty in the United States; 14 of those officers worked for Texas agencies.
Bell County has observed Police Memorial Day since Sheriff Dan Smith assumed his position in 1986.
"Every year, policing agencies across the county strive to do better in keeping their officers safe," Smith said. "As long as there is freedom, there are heroes who will be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice."
Harker Heights Police Chief Mike Gentry said the day was more than a reminder of those who sacrificed their lives in the service of protecting others – a burden police agencies face year-round.
"I'm proud to wear the badge, not because of what the job is, and I love it," Gentry said. "It's because of the people I work with. We don't have to look to Hollywood for heroes. They live right next to us."
During Gentry's early career in law enforcement, he lost three friends and co-workers within his first two years on the job.
Since 1999, 1,640 officers died in the line of duty in the United States, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. One-third were killed with their own weapon and half were killed within seven yards of the assailant.
"Most would have been prevented with better training and equipment," Gentry said. "Too many officers are not equipped as technology allows because of budget restraints."
After the names of Texas' fallen officers were read, bagpipers played "Amazing Grace," wreaths were laid in front of the American and Texas flags, and a 21-gun salute shattered the silence.
Taps played as the flags were lowered to half-staff.
Temple Police Chief Gary Smith, a 30-year veteran of the department, said the memorial hit close to home.
Temple police Officer David Camden died in a motorcycle accident Sept. 14, 2007.
Smith went to the national memorial for police officers in Washington, D.C., last year along with Camden's family. He said the experience helped him come to terms with Camden's death.
"It was very painful, very much like losing a family member," Smith said. "It's hard for people from other walks of life who don't experience this every day to know what it's like. Police officers have very strong bonds."
Contact Hayley Kappes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559.