S.P. Officer Honored for Actions to End Assault
Southern Pines Police Officer Dana Smith had no idea that a simple request from his supervisor would turn into the most memorable moment of his young career.
"They need you at the Town Council meeting," Lt. Chuck Campbell told Smith on Tuesday afternoon.
Smith remained oblivious until he walked in the door that night and saw his parents, other relatives and several friends.
"Why is everybody here?" Smith said he thought to himself. "I had no clue they were going to be there. I knew something was up, but I still couldn't figure it out."
It wasn't until Chief John Letteney started reading a description of the circumstances that prompted the police department to award its first-ever Meritorious Conduct Medal that Smith fully understood.
"As soon as he said the date, I knew," Smith said.
Letteney was describing the events of Dec. 21, 2010, when officers were called to a residence on South Ashe Street for an unknown disturbance. Upon arrival, officers approached the house and could hear a woman pleading for her life, yelling, "Please don't kill me." They could also hear a male suspect actively and loudly threatening the victim.
"Officer Dana Smith immediately took charge of the scene," Letteney said.
When Smith and the other officers entered the living room, they found the suspect on top of the victim assaulting her. The suspect was armed with an assault rifle, had four magazines of ammunition and was wearing body armor.
"Even though the suspect was armed and the use of deadly force would most likely been ruled as 'justified,' Officer Smith quickly determined that he could subdue the suspect and end the assault by use of his electronic control device, more commonly known by its brand name, Taser," Letteney said.
After directing the other officers to provide "lethal cover" in case the Taser failed, Smith then fired the Taser, which struck the suspect and ended the assault. Smith promptly subdued the suspect and arrested him.
"While all officers present that day faced a violent assault and deadly force situation, Officer Smith's leadership, quick thinking and decisive action during this very dangerous call saved not only the victim's life, but possibly the liv-es of the suspect and the officers as well," Letteney said. "During this situation, Officer Smith placed himself in immediate peril, but in doing so saved the life of another while performing an act of exceptional heroism."
Once Letteney had finished reading the citation, Smith received a standing ovation.
"I was absolutely shocked," Smith said. "It was an amazing thing to be recognized like that. It was definitely a proud moment."
Smith, 28, who has been with the department since September 2007, said there was "no time to think" when he responded to the call.
"Once I got there, everything was happening so quick I was on autopilot," he said. "I just reacted to the situation the best way I knew how."
Letteney said the Meritorious Conduct Medal is the department's second-highest honor and part of a new awards program instituted during an almost three-year process that resulted in advanced accreditation last month by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).
"It was a departmentwide effort," he said. "The staff here is very dedicated to the community and they worked hard for this. Accreditation directly relates to the quality of police services that we offer to this community, and it's that important to us. We are honored."
Letteney said the five-step process began in November 2008 when the department applied for a $4,000 grant to cover the program's administrative fees and ended July 30, when he and Community Services Coordinator Bob Temme learned from the full CALEA commission at a meeting in Cincinnati that accreditation had been approved.
"I had the night shift stay until morning roll call for the day shift the next day and broke the news over the telephone," Letteney said. "Everyone was excited. I knew when I came here in November 2005 that the department could achieve this. The staff deserves it, as does the community."
Town Manager Reagan Parsons said accreditation brings tangible benefits, such as lowering the town's annual premium by $4,000 on liability insurance for officers, but the intangible benefits are more important.
"From my seat, John Letteney came in and took over a well-run and professional organization that former Chief Gerald Galloway left behind," Parsons said. "John has not only maintained that legacy, but has taken it to the next level. The real beauty of the program is that it's an ongoing process."
Only 5 percent of the nation's law-enforcement agencies are accredited, according to the CALEA website.
"The accreditation process has served as a blueprint to ensure the Southern Pines Police Department is at the forefront of best practices in the profession, achieves the level of professionalism and service delivery it is capable of, and maintains that level as the needs of the community change," Letteney said. "This recognition puts us in the top tier of professional law enforcement agencies."
Contact Ted M. Natt at email@example.com.
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