GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - “Thank you” can be an easy throwaway line, but not on this day.
“It feels good. It feels good,” said Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania. “This is exactly what we need. Sometimes you see law enforcement in bad times have a separation from its community, and ours is the reverse here. There’s a closeness that we’re feeling and we need right now.”
On Wednesday, Handsboro Baptist Church had its sixth annual luncheon to honor Gulfport Police Officers.
This year, the gesture was especially needed and welcomed after the shooting death of Biloxi Police Officer Robert McKeithen.
The Gulfport Police Department is investigating the shooting.
“These kind of events in law enforcement tend to bond us,” he said, “bond us with each other and especially with our community. And today, it speaks volumes for how our community at large has handled law enforcement on the Coast.”
The timeliness of the honor is not lost on the volunteers and what it means to both them and the officers.
“The police department has been under a lot of stress and strain, physical, emotional this last week,” said organizer Debbie Nicholson. “And this is just another way we can say thank you for representing the city of Gulfport to Biloxi.
“You do look at each of these officers and they touch your heart a little differently because you don’t know when it could be someone else.”
The Rev. Joey Bennett said the luncheon’s purpose is two-fold.
“We support them wholeheartedly, and our hearts are broken too along with theirs,” he said. “And then, we appreciate all that they do. They put their lives on the line every single day.”
Papania said the widespread support helps negate any anti-police sentiment that he admits is still out there.
“No matter what entity exists, there’s always another entity that doesn’t like it, “he said. “So, do I believe there are people out there that don’t support? Sure, there are. Do I worry about it? Not at all.”
The church also treated officers to a free gift card drawing at the end of the lunch.