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Posted: August 23, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Open letter to Chief Stacey Cotton

Dear Chief Cotton:

With 23 years in public education and another 14 in the airline business, I’m well aware that people complain in a skinny minute when things go wrong, but they’re not inclined to share compliments when things go right. I’d more likely hear from parents of a student who failed my social studies class than from parents of an "A" student. Similarly, passengers were exponentially more vocal when flights were delayed or canceled than when they operated on schedule.

Therefore, Chief Cotton, I want to compliment you for making available to the public the 2009 Firearms Safety Course.

Nearly 25 years ago our Covington Police Department became first in Georgia and 10th in the United States to gain international certification and recognition by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. It’s my understanding that CALEA’s review committee calls upon the CPD this week, and I’m confident they’ll be even more impressed with every aspect of how our police department functions.

CALEA will discover that the Covington Police Department is far more than just law enforcement. The upcoming "Fuzz Run" attracts runners and joggers from across the nation, the D.A.R.E. program has positively influenced school children teaching them to resist drugs and alcohol, and the unique Firearms Safety Class is of inestimable value to the citizenry.

The purpose of my letter today is to commend you and the very special individuals in the department who teach the Firearms Safety Class.

Some 20 years ago the class began as a Female Firearms Course, originally designed exclusively for women to learn how to defend themselves. The course became so popular that it morphed over two decades into its present form, now attracting males and couples as well as females who want to learn how to safely handle firearms.

Last Saturday, my wife and I spent the day out at the City Pond Park’s firing range getting educated in firearms safety. Sgt. Arvo Bowen and Detective Daniel "DJ" Seals were the principle instructors; Captain Ken Malcom presented an excellent introductory overview and demonstration. Officers Chip Shirah and Dave Stewart dropped in during their watch, answering questions from the citizens involved in the class and amplifying teaching techniques and points of law.

Our class was comprised of old folks, young folks, whites, blacks, males, females, marrieds, singles and two couples. We learned rules for gun safety, studied non-deadly force options for defending ourselves and property, reviewed Georgia gun laws and contemplated hypothetical cases of when to use — and how to avoid using — deadly force.

At the end of the day when we reported to the firing range to put into practice what we’d learned, the gravity of the decision-making process essential to the use of deadly force had been impressed upon every member of our group.

As a caveat, Chief, though I’d initially learned gun safety 50 years ago as a Boy Scout, I’d never fired a pistol. I’d handled shotguns and rifles, but a life-threatening experience in my formative years had fomented a lifelong fear of handguns. The expert, considerate and dedicated instruction demonstrated by Bowen and Seals throughout the day, especially on the firing line, made it possible for me to overcome my fear and anxiety.

More importantly, Chief Cotton, I and every person in the class came away with a renewed respect and appreciation for the awesome responsibility our peace officers shoulder each and every time they put on the uniform. Mere words can never thank them adequately for putting their lives on the line each and every day in the name of public service.

It’s my hope, Chief Cotton, that the Covington Police Department will continue to offer this Firearms Safety Class, and that all citizens will participate. I guarantee it will change their lives, give them a new perspective on the awesome responsibility inherent in the use of deadly force, and cultivate a healthy respect for the men and women who to me are everyday heroes – our peace officers.

Thank you, Chief Cotton, for your role in providing what I believe to be the finest police department in America.

With admiration, Nat Harwell

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.

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