Mount Vernon Police Department

A Mount Vernon police officer hands a water bottle to a young protester on June 1, 2020.

MOUNT VERNON – Roger Tickle wants local law enforcement officials to feel loved. He wants them to feel supported and appreciated by the community they serve.

That’s why he helped organize Friday’s “Back the Blue Rally,” which will take place in front of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (11540 Upper Gilchrist Rd.) from 7-8:30 a.m. and 3-4:30 p.m. Members of the public are invited to show up, wear blue, and hoist signs in support of local law enforcement. Organizers will be handing fresh-cooked meals to officers as they drive by.

“We just kind of felt like there’s a lot of stuff going on and they needed encouragement, so we felt like this would be a good way to do it,” Tickle said Thursday. “It’s just really simple, nothing elaborate.”

Tickle, 64, organized the event alongside fellow Knox County resident Amy Hudson. The two are longtime friends and both serve as chaplains with the Knox Community Chaplain Corps.

Tickle said they wanted to organize the rally because they felt law enforcement had received undue criticism in recent weeks. Communities across the nation have protested systemic racism and police brutality following the policeman killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd on May 25. Mount Vernon played host to two peaceful demonstrations in early June, which brought a combined total of nearly 1,000 people to Public Square.

“It seems like the good police officers have kind of been lumped in with the bad officers,” Tickle said. “They are human beings just like us. They have children, they have wives, they have moms and dads, they have families.

"So I think that whatever side you stand on with an issue, there’s good and there’s bad with all of it. And I just think the good police officers, who honestly do have a heart to serve, they want to do good things for the community.”

Several nearby communities have organized similar pro-police rallies in the last two weeks. Ashland held a “Shield the Line” demonstration June 26 that drew more than 200 people to the county fairgrounds. A group of 30 or so gathered in Mansfield on Sunday to show their support.

Floyd’s killing has prompted America to reexamine the role of law enforcement and reckon with its flaws. Civil rights leaders have called for meaningful police reform, largely aimed at increasing police accountability and altering use-of-force protocols.

Some have proposed “defunding the police,” which would divest funds from police departments and reallocate them to non-policing forms of public safety and community support, such as social services, youth services, housing, education, healthcare and other community resources.

Just like the protests, this discussion of police reform has reached Mount Vernon as well. Christina Hambleton, a Ariel Corporation data analyst and Capital University law student, presented City Council with a police reform proposal on June 22 that focuses on three main issues: holding city officials accountable for enforcing specific policing standards, establishing a clearly defined use-of-force policy, and developing an anti-harassment policy for law enforcement.

It’s unclear if the proposal will be discussed at Council’s Monday meeting, as it is not currently on the agenda.

Tickle said he knows area law enforcement well. As a volunteer with the Mount Vernon Association of Police Chaplains, he has supported many officers emotionally and spiritually during tough times. He’s seen first-hand the toll that policing takes on officers and their families.

“We do have a good police force here,” Tickle said. “They aren’t perfect, but we have some good men and women in there.”

There is a certain bravery required to serve in law enforcement, Tickle says. Data backs this up. According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, tabulated in 2016, police officers are roughly four times as likely to die or become injured on the job as other citizens.

This chilling reality hit close to home last weekend, when Toledo police officer Anthony Dia was gunned down by a man in a Home Depot parking lot on July 4. Dia, 26, left behind a wife and two sons, ages 8 and 6.

With everything hanging over police officers’ heads this week, Tickle hopes Friday’s rally will offer a ray of hope to those behind the badge.

“With all the discouragement that’s going on today, in the media and such, I just think they need to be encouraged,” Tickle said. “This is not a political thing. This isn’t something where we’re trying to go get anybody’s dander raised because of what we’re doing. We just want to support some men and women who have families and just sometimes need to hear some good things.”

Those in attendance Friday are expected to line the long driveway leading up to the sheriff’s office, waving signs, noisemakers and balloons. Officers will be offered boxes filled with fresh-cooked hamburgers (Tickle will be grilling on-site), potato chips and homemade cookies as they drive by.

Everlasting Cup has donated donuts for the occasion and the Mount Vernon Tim Horton’s will provide coffee. Covenant Church in Mount Vernon has provided chicken patties to serve as an alternative to hamburgers. Several other local businesses and individuals have donated to help provide food for the event.

“The total cost was very minimal…” Tickle said. “Most of the donations were not cash, they were items that we needed.”

By hosting rallies at two different times, organizers hope to catch local police officers working all three shifts.

While Tickle said organizers did not obtain permits to host the event, they did gain approval from Knox County Sheriff David Shaffer, Mount Vernon Police Sgt. Andy Burns and Mayor Matt Starr.

“We didn’t have to have a permit, but we did contact all the local authorities about it and made sure they were good with it…” Tickle said. “We’ve got the permission that we need.”

Tickle was unsure Thursday how many people to expect at the event. What began as a simple idea among a few friends has turned into something much bigger, at least on social media. The Facebook post by Knox Network of Christian Ministries (where Tickle serves as board president) announcing the event has been shared 324 times since Saturday.

“It kind of got bigger than what we [expected], as far as how far it went and how many people heard about it,” Tickle said with a laugh. “But we have no idea how many people will be there.”

Tickle said organizers are simply “hoping for a good crowd.” They are encouraging participants to practice physical distancing and to wear masks during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ll do the very best we can to comply and make sure everybody’s safe,” he said.

The main goal Friday, Tickle said, is to put smiles on local officers’ faces. Nothing more, nothing less.

“We just want a peaceful gathering,” he said, “to encourage some of our men and women in law enforcement.”

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Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.