Optimist Club has #8216;respect for the law#039;

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 20, 2007

In spite of inclement weather, a standing-room-only-crowd from tots to senior citizens gathered at the Boys and Girls Club in Greenville Monday night.

The evening offered an opportunity to meet and greet area law enforcement officials and enjoy a community fellowship.

It was all part of the Butler County Optimist Club's Annual Respect for the Law Night.

Butler County Sheriff Kenny Harden, Jail Administrator Albert McKee, Butler County Commission Chair Jesse McWilliams, Lt. Anthony Barganier of the Greenville P.D., Greenville Assistant Fire Chief Jeffrey Pressley, the Honorable Steve Norman, probate judge, and keynote speaker, the Honorable MacDonald Russell, circuit judge, were all on hand to share the importance of citizens and law enforcement working hand in hand to improve the community. Gloria Warren served as the mistress of ceremonies for the evening.

Event Chair Nneka Anofielo welcomed everyone to the event.

&#8220Learning respect for the law is important for our children, young adults, for everyone. This is a chance to meet with your law officials and have one-on-one time with them. Remember to respect them when you see - and when you don't see them,” Anofielo admonished the crowd.

Russell provided a brief and earnest talk, encouraging &#8220the greatest respect for our law enforcement officials.”

&#8220Please know – these people don't do it for the money. They want to serve the public and maintain order for their family, friends and all members of the community. It is a thin blue - and in the case of our firefighters, red - line these guys and gals face each day,” Russell said.

&#8220These people are our guardian angels, the front line in our defense against crimeŠthey are always on watch.”

Russell reminded the audience law enforcement was often called away from family celebrations and even family crises to perform their duties; called into dangerous domestic situations and &#8220verbally abused, stared down and ignored every shift of every day.”

As a judge and former trial lawyer, Russell said he also knew how tough it could be for law enforcement officers to take the stand in cases &#8220and be beat down by at least one of the lawyers.”

&#8220(Law enforcement) is a hard job. We need to tell our children, friends and neighbors to respect what they do,” Russell urged.

In other event highlights, Harden spoke of changes and improvements in his department since taking the helm in January of this year.

&#8220We have more deputies, more patrols, quicker responseŠwe are here to serve the people of Butler

County. We are only as good as our citizens allow us to be,” Harden said.

&#8220We have a special concern for the elderly and for our young people. Remember our door is open to you - come and see us.”

 McKee said he would like to see the rate of recidivism - prisoners re-offending and returning to jail - drop.

&#8220This is typically a three-month cycle, mostly for misdemeanors. We have to look for answers to break this cycle - policy adjustment?  Do we need more community service? Better training?”

McKee said he was &#8220ecstatic” about the new jail coming to the county.

&#8220I can't wait to see that cornerstone laid,” the jail administrator said.

McWilliams echoed McKee's words, saying McKee and Lt. Sharon Smith had had to work in &#8220subpar conditions” at the current jail for a number of years.

&#8220The new jail is part of our future, and we must look to other changes - providing a 24 hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week watch for our citizens, for example,” McWilliams said.

&#8220We must work together to provide our law enforcement people with their needs. Young people, learn this tonight if you don't learn anything else: you have to learn how to work with others in life in order to get things done.”

Barganier encouraged everyone to think of safety (&#8220buckle up”) when they take to the streets.

&#8220I also want to encourage all the young people to obey your parents and your teachers and make the best grades possible. Stay in school - that's the only way you can continue to be a success in life,” Barganier stressed.

Pressley emphasized the importance of families having a plan in place in case of emergency.

&#8220We have to train our people (at the fire station) to know what to do when emergencies arise, so train your children so they can be safe if a fire occurs in your home,” the assistant fire chief said.

Along with words of wisdom from the law enforcement officials, attendees were treated to inspiring and energetic performances by the Saint Paul Baptist Church Praise Team and the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church P-Rest Stepping Soldiers. Others participating in the program included Optimist Club President Clara Hudson, Mary Stewart, Eugene Hudson, Daniel Robinson, Betty Carter and Earlene Milner.

The event was followed with a door prize giveaway and an array of refreshments.

Norman said it was an absolute pleasure &#8220to see kids out being a part of something so good and positive and optimistic.”