Members of Phillips County law enforcement line up behind a dozen packages of high-quality, rifle-proof body armor received through the Shield616 program. Officers and deputies are pictured from left, Mary Seeley, Joseph Marcum, Mark Werts, Doug Bergstrom, Thomas Elliott, William “J.R.” Myers, Wyatt Bishop, Tanya Mayhew, Michael Beard and Thomas Bullard. — The Holyoke Enterprise | Johnson Publications
First Baptist Church pastor Jeremiah Krieger prays over Phillips County law enforcement and their new body armor packages. Community members and Holyoke Police Department officers are pictured from left, Joseph Marcum, Krieger, Lynn Schneider and Mark Werts. — The Holyoke Enterprise | Johnson Publications
County rallies to provide life-saving gear for local law enforcement
Thanks to thousands of dollars raised by the Holyoke Lions Club in partnership with national nonprofit Shield616, county law enforcement officers and their families will be able to sleep a bit easier at night.
On Nov. 29, Shield616 presented officers with a dozen packages of high-quality body armor and other emergency equipment.
Jake Skifstad, the owner and founder of Shield 616, addressed a full room at the Lions Den and acknowledged the relationship that a town of Holyoke’s size has with their law enforcement.
“I think to have our community here with our law enforcement sends a really powerful message that they’re supported by the community,” he said.
Founded to provide protective equipment for and encourage community engagement with law enforcement, the organization’s name is meant as a nod to Ephesians 6:16: “Take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
Holyoke and Haxtun police officers, as well as Phillips County Sheriff’s Office deputies, will be toting more than just a shield — each kit includes rifle-rated ballistic plates, helmets, vests, trauma kits and gear pouches.
Previously, the vests worn by law enforcement in Phillips County were only designed to stop handgun threats, Holyoke Police Chief Doug Bergstrom said.
Officers will now be protected from rifle fire as well, which will bolster their ability to safely and quickly deal with high-risk situations.
“It means a lot to all of us,” Bergstrom said. “We’re honored that the community got together to raise money for something that we otherwise couldn’t afford.”
Phillips County Sheriff Thomas Elliott also indicated the equipment will reduce the county’s dependence on SWAT teams from other counties. Undersheriff William “J.R.” Myers said the nearest such team is located in Sterling.
“With this equipment, we can respond a lot more quickly,” Elliott said.
The Holyoke Lions Club raised $18,461 from about 47 donors, most of whom are based in Phillips County. Ivan Wiebke, who helped lead the fundraising effort, said donations ranged all the way from $2 to $1,600.
The local campaign to raise funds began in early 2018 and had originally set a goal of raising $16,800.
Skifstad explained the individual packages would ordinarily retail for around $2,700, but thanks to fundraising efforts, they were provided to each of the three agencies free of charge.
As another part of the Shield616 mission, community members are encouraged to form networks to regularly offer support and prayer for officers and their families.
The 10 officers who attended Thursday night were joined by about 40 community donors, relatives and Lions Club members, whom Skifstad recognized as the backbone of the law enforcement community in Phillips County.
“Law enforcement is hard and dangerous every day, and so these officers need to be reminded often that there are good members of the community who support them,” he said.