Kearney police officer Derick Hager was finishing up his overnight shift on a Friday morning when he was summoned to a vandalized home. A house belonging to an elderly couple had been spray-painted under the cover of night, the second time the home had been tagged in a year.
Standard police protocol calls for the submission of a vandalism reporting document. A standard of kindness might call for one to help clean up the defaced property. Doing so after an overnight shift, as Hagar and other officers did, might be grounds for sainthood.
Speaking Friday evening at a police appreciation event, Hagar said his motivation was simple: the golden rule.
“I’ve always been the type to help pay it forward, you know,” Hager said. “I would hope that someone would come to me if I needed the help. I’ve always had the idea that if somebody sees me roadside or on a call for service and see me with some type of need, that someone would help me.”
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The community marked the end of Kearney’s Back the Blue event, a weeklong celebration of the police, with a small party at the police station attended by Kearney officers and members of the public.
Event organizer Robert Borushko said the idea for a multi-day event was embraced by community members and sponsoring businesses.
“It just took off,” Borushko said.
Borushko works for a company that sent donations to families affected by the Dallas officer shootings in July. As some of his family work in the field of law enforcement, Borushko said the shootings affected him personally and moved him to act.
He put out a call to action to the community, which was answered by companies that catered meals for the police officers and families willing to “adopt” an officer and act as secret Santas for the Kearney force.
Borushko’s suggested gift value: $20. Kearney resident Megan Morrison delivered a goodie bag with around $50 worth of gifts for her adopted officer.
“It’s just about always having that lifeline you can call,” Morrison said.
She meant the words sincerely. While driving to work, Morrison was struck with an asthma attack. She spotted Kearney police officers and waved them over.
The officers involved volunteered to drive Morrison to safety.
“They could have just called an ambulance and moved on,” Morrison said.
Assistant Chief Barney Hatfield said building a culture of strong volunteerism and goodwill comes down to encouraging Kearney’s 19 police officers to actively seek opportunities to help their citizens — and generally improve the world around them.
“Chief (Tom) Carey and I, both us have always been big on community policing,” he said, noting that includes helping fix flat tires or give rides.
Strictly speaking, police work doesn’t include a lot of work with wildlife, but that didn’t stop Kearney officers from helping save a baby fox stuck in a sewer or helping reorient a large bird that had flown in to a police cruiser.
Borushko organized the event with his sister, Kathie Ousley, who said the Dallas shootings underscored the inherent risks public safety personnel accept every hour at their job.
“When we send our officers out on the road, we trust and have faith in God that they’re going to bring them back safe to us,” Ousley said.
Hagar said cleaning a vandalized home is part of the job description rather than something extraordinary.
“We would obviously like to do a lot more, but with the time that we have, we do what we can,” he said.