There’s a public service announcement on radio where a police officer exchanges greetings with friends during the course of a day. The hellos are upbeat. Then the tone changes with a reference to the greeting no officer ever wants to make, followed by a “knock, knock, knock.”
Listeners can imagine the unstated scenario: A family member opens the door and sees an officer, “There’s been an accident.”
The dramatization isn’t real, but it’s played out in real life every day. What the PSA doesn’t say is that police themselves are not immune from accidents. Uniforms are identifying symbols, not protective armor. And officers have families too.
Blount Countians were reminded of that when Maryville Police Department motorcycle officer Ben Belitz was injured on duty Tuesday when a pickup pulled into his path on West Lamar Alexander Parkway, sending him airborne over the truck bed and landing him on his back.
It is imperative that motorists be alert when driving around people working on the road. That includes highway construction workers, but also people working while driving, such as ambulances, fire trucks and school buses. Same goes for law enforcement vehicles — especially police motorcycles for obvious reasons.
So far this year, the Officer Down Memorial Page lists three officers killed on duty when struck by a vehicle, and we’re only halfway through January.
It brings to mind the groundbreaking “Hill Street Blues” TV series of the 1980s. Fans will recall that Sgt. Phil Esterhaus ended his pre-shift briefing to officers with a memorable line. As he sends his charges on their way, he says with understated enthusiasm, “All right, let’s roll.”
Then his tone quickly changes to a fatherly, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”
That is not a reminder Cpl. Belitz will need when he returns from a lengthy recovery. According to family members, Belitz says “he feels like he’s been hit by a truck.”
Obviously, being knocked off his bike over a pickup bed into a hospital bed is not enough to dent his sense of humor. It will serve Belitz well as he mends. Here’s hoping the healing process goes smoothly and finishes ASAP.
Not to belabor the point or to steal a line, but this plea is worth repeating for police and civilians alike: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”