AUTHOR’S NOTE: While this piece is open to all to read, it is written with my peace officer brethren in mind.
Herbert Proffitt was a veteran of the Korean War and had a 50-plus year career as a peace officer including stints as the Monroe County (KY) Sheriff and as the Tompkinsville (KY) Police Chief. He retired initially in 2000 but later returned to the Sheriff’s Office serving as a Bailiff until 2009 when he retired again at the age of 79.
On August 28, 2012, Sheriff Proffitt was in his own driveway getting his mail when a thug he had arrested numerous times dating back to the 1970s (allegedly) ambushed and murdered him. Several accounts that I have read assert that the thug had the citations from the first arrest in his possession when captured and that said thug is 81 years old.
Sheriff Proffitt survived being in the line of fire for well over half of a century only to get gunned down while doing something as mundane as walking out in his own driveway to get his mail years after he retired and by someone who has nursed a grudge for 40 years. While all “officer down” stories are a tragedy this one is especially just plain wrong. I am by no means asserting that evil doesn’t prey upon those outside of our profession, and while I do not want to sound overdramatic or bellicose, this incident is a reminder to all whom it applies that your life changed forever the first time that you pinned on a badge, and your vigilance shouldn’t, and can’t, stop when you are off duty, when you are with your families, when you are retired, or any other time for that matter.
As a rookie cop in a fairly populous area, I thought that I could meander about during my off-time completely anonymously when out of uniform. I learned quickly that I was wrong as one night while dining in a restaurant, I looked over at the next table only to see an individual who was convicted that very day on a charge that I had made against him. Incidentally, it was the first arrest that I had made after completing field training. Since that night I have not left my home, even to walk out to get the mail, unarmed. It is not that I live my life in fear; it is that I adopted a mindset that night that I would never be caught without the ability to protect myself and those that I hold dear, and I stress that the most important tool for self protection is awareness more than anything else (regardless of profession). This includes being choosy about off duty activities and where you do them.
It may seem like an annoyance to carry at times, but to borrow a line from Unforgiven, don’t get killed for a lack of shooting back.