GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - "You make me proud every day."
That was a comment from Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes during the Gulfport Police Department's semi-annual awards ceremony at the Handsboro Community Center Thursday morning.
As police officers and their families gathered for the ceremony, many investigators were still canvasing the scene of the latest shooting; a stark reminder of the dangers and challenges they face daily.
"We're here to recognize some honorees of our department, as well as their family members," said emcee Deputy Chief, Chis Lopasser.
Officer of the Month awards were handed out with accompanying stories highlighting the difficulties and dangers involved in each case or investigation.
"To have the opportunity to really look at these stand-outs, and bring recognition to the great work they do, it is, it's a good feeling," said Chief Leonard Papania.
Two retirees were honored for their years of dedication to the department, Shawn Williams and Tony Wallace.
Wallace, who worked primarily in processing evidence collected at a crime scene, says officers today face more violence than ever.
"For no reason at all, they're just shooting each other. That's the biggest challenge. If they can get a hold of that, they can eliminate a lot of the crime," said Wallace.
Joseph Fore knows what it's like to stare down violent offenders on the streets.
"Officer Fore gave numerous verbal commands for the suspect to drop the knife, which the suspect refused. He began advancing on Officer Fore, saying 'you're going to have to kill me,'" Lopasser read from an account of a past crime.
For successfully defusing the situation, Officer Fore received the department's highest honor: the Medal of Valor.
"Something you never expect to receive in your entire career. And I didn't like the circumstances surrounding it, but it's always nice to be recognized by your peers for doing a good job. One call at a time; that's all you can do," said Fore.
Remaining dedicated despite not knowing what that next call might be is where police say the challenge lies.
"These acts of bravery, these acts of dedicated service that you are being recognized for today are greatly appreciated and much deserved," said Hewes. "And quite frankly, underrated in my book."
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