COVINGTON, Ga. - One day after one of his officers was shot and seriously wounded, Covington police Chief Stacey Cotton met with the press to talk about Officer Matt Cooper and what his department is going through.
Addressing local media Tuesday in the briefing room at CPD headquarters, Cotton said, “We’re tired, but we’re pulling together. And we’re making it. The main thing is Matt Cooper is doing all of the fighting now and he’s doing a good job at it.”
He described Cooper as an “excellent police officer.”
“We were having a meeting just a little while ago and I kind of made the comment that if you thought about the tactically sound police officer, the guy who understood good safe tactics, how to approach a situation, how to handle himself, how to be prepared both physically and mentally, Matt Cooper is your man,” he said.
“He served our country in Afghanistan and Iraq in combat situations. He’s served on our ESU - Emergency Services Unit - team here. He’s actually part of a two-man sniper team that’s competed internationally against military units from all around the country and finished 15th, being the top sniper team in law enforcement in the world.
“The man is what you would consider a cop’s cop. He’s a protector, he’s a professional.”
Cotton also talked about the outpouring of support Officer Cooper and his department had received from all over the country.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know if I understand the outpouring of support from not only the city of Covington or Newton County but the outpouring of support from the state of Georgia and around this country,” he said. “I actually got an email last night from one of the president’s staffers in the White House, asking specifically by name how Officer Matt Cooper was doing, and his family.
“I’ve had police chiefs from the country, citizens from across this country just reach out to us to see how we’re doing, how Matt’s doing, how his family is doing. I can’t express how warm-hearted that makes us feel to know the men and women who pin this badge on every day are appreciated.
“We are very appreciated in this country, more so than we realize sometimes.”
Cotton said he had never experienced anything like Officer Cooper’s being shot during his long career.
“I’ve been chief almost 21 years, with almost 32 years of service. I had really hoped that I was going to get through without having to face something like this,” he said. “It’s been challenging. Nothing you do in your career prepares you for this other than, I think, trusting in and watching and seeing the fine men and women who wear the Covington Police badge and how they do the things that do has made my job a whole lot easier because I knew that they knew what they were doing.”
Cotton also praised the work of all of the agencies who responded to Monday’s incident.
“Not only the Covington Police Department acted professionally and efficiently in what they did - I think officers on the scene probably were critical to saving Matt’s life at that moment.
“But also the Covington Fire Department, Newton County EMS and the Covington/Newton County 911 Center- all of those entities worked together under trying conditions, because the man was still in the woods with a gun- nobody knew exactly where he was at the time- and they were able to do their duty, be safe, and do the best that they could do to save Matt’s life. It all worked like a well-oiled machine.
“It’s something this community needs to be proud of- the high level of professional public safety service that I saw there. They were prepared.”
Cotton also talked about the support CPD is receiving from other law enforcement agencies, both local and statewide.
“We probably could have sent every police officer home and every agency in Georgia would have come up here and answered calls for us,” he said. “But we didn’t need to do that. Our officers are prepared and we were able to make some adjustments and do the things we need to do.
“Every agency in the surrounding area, across the state, GBI, Georgia State Patrol, even agencies from outside of the State of Georgia have reached out to us to let us that they are praying for us and they are there to help us in any way they can.”
Asked what his department has learned from the incident Cotton said, “I think we always have to go back and reassess how we handle certain situations. Whenever something happens that results in somebody’s injury, then obviously we want to go back and make sure we train and try to minimize those situations.”
He continued,” I think the biggest thing we’ve learned is that the community support and outreach for this police officer and this department show me that the public loves and cares for law enforcement.”
Growing emotional, Cotton said, “They know it’s a tough job and we’re not always treated fairly. But a man got up to go to work that day. The only thing he did was go to work - just like each and every one of y’all do-get up and go to work. And he was seriously, critically injured for doing his job.
“We don’t do this for the paycheck. We do it because we love it. And many of us feel like we’re protectors. Matt Cooper is one of those protectors. Not only does he defend this community every day, he defended this country overseas.”
Late in his nearly 20-minute press conference, Cotton offered more insight into the kind of person and police officer Matt Cooper is.
“Not only does he have the tactical superiority – he understands the art and the craft of being a counter sniper, tactically on a SWAT type situation- or on just a traffic stop, he understands the tactics. But you can also catch that smile-of how he can talk to a young child or make somebody feel at ease with what they’re doing.
“He’s the guy that you would want to show up at your mom’s house at 2:00 in the morning to help her if she needed it.”
Cotton said Officer Cooper is also a trained EMT. He thinks Cooper’s training and mindset were critical to him surviving Monday’s shooting.
“He knows not only how to show up and protect your life, but he also can save your life,” he said,” And I think that survival instinct of understanding what was going on, what people were trying to do to help him in his time of need, I think was very important.
“I think his mindset was critical, that he was going to survive this situation. And so far he’s doing it. And I believe it’s because Matt’s that strong of an individual.
Asked if Officer Cooper’s fight is an inspiration for him, Cotton said, “I think it inspires all of us. I learned in the police academy almost 32 years ago that if you get injured in the line of duty and you think that you’re going to die, you probably will.
“But if you think that you’ll survive it, you can. If your mind is set, and you believe that you’re going to pull through this. And I’ve always carried with me, in my personal life, that I’m going to survive anything that I can. I’m going to push through and make it.
“Well guess what, Matt Cooper is doing that and I’m standing back in awe watching that young man do that. And I’m humbled by watching the strength of that young man. It inspires all of us, I think.