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TAYLORVILLE — Seventy-three. The number itself in innocuous. It could be a nice ripe age, or a comfortable temperature. It could be the number of days until someone’s birthday. Or how long a groom has to wait to marry his bride. But, last year, the number took on a more sinister look. According to the FBI, which began compiling data in 1995, 2021 saw 73 police officers intentionally killed in America. That, the agency claimed, was the high number of police deaths in the line of duty ever recorded, excluding the 9/11 attacks.
Is it any wonder that the National Police Foundation reported that 86% of police departments now face staffing shortages? Police officers are dying. They are being attacked by the very people they are sworn to protect. They are run over carelessly. What was once a career that was respected has become dangerous and, in some cities, not even a real job any longer. Defund or defend, the argument around police officers and what their future should be is ringing out across America. But here, in Christian County, one man has made it his mission to offer humble thanks to the men and women who protect him day in and day out.
Terry Wright has always loved and respected police officers. It might have been because his brother was one, but regardless of the reason, Wright holds law enforcement personnel in high esteem. As such, he has always carried with him a desire to give back to them. “I was always interested in law enforcement and the Optimist has always had the month of May as the respect for law month. I was always the program chairman for several years, and then seven years ago, I decided to do this breakfast as a special event to pay tribute to the law enforcement.” Wright shared.
He began his Salute to Law Enforcement seven years ago. “I just started out by inviting all the local police agencies in the county, all the small towns, whether it’s Assumption, Moweaqua, Stonington, Kincaid, Morrisonville, or Mt. Auburn. I think I included Raymond and Nokomis even though they’re not in the county and the county sheriff,” Wright began in his slow, measured manner, “A couple of years after I started this, I got to thinking: well I’ve never included the Department of Corrections. I added them, and then I included the State Police. I get help from the District Commander and I give him a few invitations to use as they see fit. I have FBI guys, retried State Police. There is a nice group of retired State Police who, I think they meet for coffee about once a week here in town. They always come.”
The breakfast offers more than just a nice meal to law enforcement personnel, though. Wright’s event for giving back has grown. He has guest speakers, from politicians to this year’s speaker, Howard Buffet.
“Rodney Davis has sent videos to me a time or two. Avery Bourne usually comes and I try to bring her in as part of the program, too. I’ve had a couple Illinois Supreme Court Justices be there. Two have been speakers for me,” Wright explained, “I tried to get Howard Buffet last year, because he has done so much for law enforcement in the Macon County area. He paid for that entire training center that they built, I think. When it was first being built, my wife thought it was a hotel they were building. It’s a police training center there on the South side of Decatur, on Route 51. He couldn’t make it last year. I was trying three or four different people to get, you know, and he was the first one to respond yes. He’s coming to us between his board meeting in Nebraska and his trip to Mozambique.”
Buffet has close ties to the law enforcement community, being a former Sheriff himself. He is the CEO of the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, which is a charitable foundation that invests in global food security, conflict mitigation, and public safety. In 2015, Buffet was presented with the National Sheriff’s Association Medal of Merit for his ongoing support for law enforcement and criminal justice. The following year, he was named an honorary member of the association. Then, in 2017, Buffet received the High Sheriff Award, the highest honor presented by the Illinois Sheriff’s Association. He has received two Life-Saving Awards in recognition of his actions as Sheriff in Macon County and Yuma County, Arizona, and even the Medal of Honor from the Christian County Sheriff’s Office.
Law enforcement is near and dear to Buffet’s heart, making him the perfect speaker for the 2022 Salute to Law Enforcement breakfast.
Every year at Wright’s event, an Officer of the Year will be named. People from around the county can nominate any officer for the chance to win by going to http://www.ctitech.com/respectforlaw/ or by filling out and sending in the nomination form run annually in the Breeze-Courier.
“I’d say probably 74% of the nominations come online, but we get a few people who do the old stand by hard copies.” Wright added.
While it does not happen every year, the breakfast has been dedicated to people of importance in the past.
“Probably three of the years I’ve done this, we’ve dedicated the breakfast to an individual. Last year, we had Acup. He passed away, and he’d already sent in his RSVP. He’d planned on coming.” Wright shared softly.
Probably the most meaningful, and painful part of the Salute to Law Enforcement is the memorial to fallen officers. “What we have done in the past is, we would read a name and ring a bell that died in the line of duty. The year we had all the COVID deaths, the number jumped. That year, there were too many to do that. We’d have been there, I don’t know how long. That’s when I came up with the idea of getting a big screen TV and we just scrolled the memorial page on it during the program. Right now there was 35 in the month of January. It seems to me like the first couple of years that we did it, now, we would only have from January to May, but we were only looking at 40 names and we could read them off in a reasonable amount of time. But anymore, it’s getting to be too many.” Wright stated glumly. The many deaths of officers across America is a grim reminder that violence is never far away.
Despite the somber turn, Wright insisted he was thrilled to be involved in the Salute to Law Enforcement. He enjoyed it. “Oh, well, just the organizing part of it I really enjoy. I’ve organized a lot of things over the years, wether its junior gold tournaments or special events of some kind. Just the organization and the fulfillment you get for doing it for these guys and gals. I think they really appreciate it. This is more important than ever. It’s taking on a special importance this year. I took out a classified ad a couple years ago and ran it for a couple of weeks or so that simply said defend, yes, defund, no.”
This year, to help celebrate, Wright has asked Tom Ogilvy to play the bag pipes at the breakfast, performing Amazing Grace. Dennis Jones will also add some musical talent to the proceedings, performing Taps on his trumpet. Jilliam Lowry and Blake Carmichael will both be singing at the event.
This year will be the seventh year of Wright putting on the Salute to Law Enforcement. Despite his unflagging respect and desire to give something back, Wright was not sure how much longer he would be able to organize the annual event. “Well, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do it. If somebody would pick up the torch to continue this, I don’t know. I’ve never approached anybody about it and no one has ever said anything. You know, I’m old.”
The Salute to Law Enforcement breakfast will be held on May 26 at 6:30 a.m. at the VFW Hall in Taylorville. Nominations for Officer of the Year are open now, with all nominations required by April 30.
Please support the men and women who protect this community every day. Let’s make it a goal to never let the number of slain officers reach 73 ever again.