Courageous Strength of the Thin Blue Line
Murphy Police Department Chief Cotten was an officer with Richardson Police Department (RPD) for 22.5 years immediately before he came to Murphy PD. He started at RPD as a patrol officer, when he left he was a lieutenant. He worked with Richardson Police Officer David Sherrard for over ten years. Officer David Sherrard was killed in the line of duty on February 7, 2018.
Chief Cotten describes Officer Sherrard as being dedicated and hard working. He said they were friends, but their main interaction was as Chief Cotten being his supervisor.
The night of the incident, Chief Cotten knew an officer had been shot, and about ten minutes later he knew that officer was David Sherrard and that he had been killed. His first thoughts went to Officer Sherrard’s two little girls and loving wife, particularly the challenges they would face. In all of his years as a police officer, he has only known two other officers who were killed in the line of duty, however, he didn’t know either of the other two officers as well as he knew Officer Sherrard.
When RPD responded to the scene there was chaos, they knew there was one victim and they continued to hear gunshots being fired. There were potentially more victims. Chief Cotten said that before Columbine, the protocol for police was to lock down the situation as best as possible and wait for SWAT to arrive. Since Columbine, protocol has become “…put pressure on the bad guy. Stop the killing. Make the shooter pay attention to law enforcement.” He adds, “Officers put their lives on the line every day. They are willingly going where shots are being fired. If someone (gunman) was by themselves, and we knew they were by themselves, we’ll lock that down. In this case, they believed others were being hurt.” RPD controlled the chaos, and once the scene was contained, they negotiated with the shooter to come out, which he did.
He explains there are ripple effects when something like this occurs. There is anger, especially for those closest to Officer Sherrard. Those officers on the scene with him knew he had been killed and yet had to show amazing restraint to do their job to get the shooter into custody. “Everyone wants to do everything by the book as best you can. Everything is heightened. A brother is down. They want everyone to be safe.” After the gunman was in custody, Chief Cotten describes the officers working the scene as “(Going into) almost robot mode. There is more work to be done at the scene. You know you have family (police brotherhood) at the hospital, and once released you can spend time with your family.”
A ripple effect took place after the July 7, 2016 shooting of officers in Dallas. Chief Cotten said that many agencies, including Murphy, bought rifle rated ballistic vests. He said he doesn’t know what was worn by Officer Sherrard. He adds, “The battle is on. You have to take it to them.”
Chief Cotten said that as a police officer in times of grief such as this, he has found turning to God in prayer helps him clear his head and focus on how he can offer help as well as “evaluate what can be done to make our folks safer”. He said that officers attend critical incident stress management classes. He said they take these classes because as officers they respond to calls that involve death. These classes help them talk to the public about death. The things officers are taught to tell others, they can apply to themselves when death enters their personal lives. Chief Cotten said when he first started working with RPD he responded to a call involving death every day for a month. He said, “This can be a huge burden if you don’t have a place to put it. This is why I think faith is huge. Some people work out, some drink, some eat. Officers need to talk to friends not in law enforcement, it helps keep you balanced.”
Regarding how officer mortality affects his family, Chief Cotten said when he rode motorcycles for 12 years it was more stressful for his wife than his current position of chief. He said, “Officers, for the most part, we put on our uniform and go to work. We don’t think about it.” Regarding the bond that police officers have, he said, “Being a police officer is truly becoming a part of a brotherhood, whether male or female. When you put on the uniform you become bigger than day to day life. That’s why so many officers come to the funeral; they are drawn to the brotherhood.”
Chief Cotten said that people, whether they know you or not, want to help in times such as this. “They don’t know what to do. They bring food, tie blue ribbons…which are all appreciated. The healing process takes a long time; sometimes officers need a little space.” He said a lot of people rush in the first week, and a department can become overwhelmed. He recommends bringing food a few weeks down the road. Monetarily, he recommends donating to the Assist the Officer Foundation.
Chief Cotten gives these words to RPD, “Once you’ve worked somewhere, they are part of your family. I love my family.” To Officer Sherrard’s family he says, “If she ever needs me, all she has to do is ask.” To the community he says, “This is not just a job for us. This is a calling. Your safety and security is paramount to our belief.”
Caption: Richardson police officers participated in a Movember fundraiser. Chief Cotten (second row wearing white shirt) laughs as he said that Officer Sherrard (back row, left) was follicly challenged but always wanted to participate in the effort and would put on a fake mustache.