Two dozen Fort Mill and Tega Cay police officers responded to a call Wednesday morning at The Movement Church. Because that’s what they do.
And there was breakfast.
“This is awesome,” said Sgt. Robert Burns, community relations officer with the Tega Cay Police Department. “It’s a great idea. We absolutely love opportunities to interact with the community and events like this, this is key.”
The Community Interfaith Coalition, a collection of church, civic and nonprofit groups mainly in Fort Mill and Tega Cay, held its first public event Wednesday with a First Responders Appreciation Breakfast. They flipped pancakes, scrambled eggs and spooned out fruit for several local agencies. They even made takeout boxes for delivery to local fire stations.
“What we wanted to do is have our first official event be something that kind of builds bridges between the community and our police and fire and EMS,” said Coalition organizer Jessica Kuk, “especially given the events that have taken place across the country over the last few months.”
Law enforcement has come under national scrutiny of late following officer involved shootings. Locally, Charlotte faced riots and protests after the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott. Police groups have seen a mix of distrust and support.
Locally, one far outweighs the other.
“There’s been some very unfortunate incidents that have occurred throughout the country,” said Major Bryan Zachary with the Fort Mill Police Department. “I’m sure officers have had all kinds of reactions. We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of support.”
Maybe it was all the orange juice on hand Wednesday, but both departments used that same word — outpouring.
“In our community, over the last eight months,” Burns said, “we’ve seen an outpouring of appreciation.”
Marlin Bradberry with Tega Cay Baptist Church brought teenage sons Nikalas and Adam to help serve breakfast on Wednesday. One son is interested in a criminal justice career. Both, she hopes, would benefit from meeting officers who make careers out of service.
"It helps them realize we are to help others," Bradberry said.
Given the Charlotte riots, she wants her local officers to know there are people who respect the work they do.
"Hopefully it will make them feel appreciated," Bradberry said.
Volunteer Karen Rice recently started attending Movement Church. When she heard about the breakfast, she took a place in line.
"I do jail ministry, so it kind of caught my attention," she said. "They have such an awesome responsibility, and we want (police and other first responders) to feel appreciated."
Rice sees the public back and forth on the job police nationally are doing as an opportunity. People of faith can help, as they did on the service line Wednesday, to bring people together.
"God can bring healing and change lives," Rice said, "and He likes to do that in the midst of the most messy situations."
Officers say their local government and citizenry give them the tools they need to do their job as fairly and equitably as possible. They say compliments far outweigh complaints. They say violence always is a possibility, and neither Fort Mill or Tega Cay is immune to scenarios that could turn problematic in a hurry. However, connections between officers and their communities help both sides to avoid unnecessary conflict, officials say.
Burns said adults in Tega Cay are teaching children officers aren’t just weapons and blue lights, but actual people who have families they want to get home to, in communities they love. Zachary, working Fort Mill crime for 16 years now, said the recent reaching out to police is noticeable, but hardly new.
“The encouragement and support our officers receive on a daily basis, it’s always been there,” Zachary said. “It’s probably increased significantly the past few months because of the activities that have gone on across the country, but it’s always been here.”