Service is 'debt we cannot repay'

The community expects its protectors in law enforcement to answer and follow the call for help, to rush toward danger as the rest of us run from it. Because they do their work so well, we have the luxury of thinking too little about the risks that come with it.

We don't respect them enough as the trained professionals they are. We don't pay them enough. We don't call them "heroes" enough. We don't thank them enough. Indeed, as Gov. Mark Parkinson observed this week, "We can never thank them enough for all that they do; it truly is a debt we cannot repay."

Then a day comes like Monday, when Sedgwick County Sheriff's Deputy Brian S. Etheridge lost his life while doing his job.

And all we can do is ponder the photo of his smiling face, take in the stories about his bravery and work ethic, ache for his wife and child, and wonder how such a horror could happen — and how long it will be before it happens again in Sedgwick County.

The circumstances of the deputy's ambush and slaying deepen the senselessness of his death. The full story was known only to the 27-year-old suspect, who apparently shot the deputy in the back and leg and later died after a shoot-out with responding officers.

Of course, the word "senseless" always seems to apply when an officer dies, as when Sheriff's Sgt. Ken Snider was stabbed to death in a domestic disturbance in 1997, or when Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Easter was shot to death in 1996 by a teen in a stolen car. The loss is no more explicable for the family or community when the death is accidental, of course, as when Lt. Jack Galvin died after suffering burns at the Wichita Police Department's bomb range in 2000.

One certainty is that there now is another fallen officer to be remembered at the Law Enforcement Memorial of Sedgwick County, which is being built on the northeast corner of the City Hall grounds. Construction began last month on the memorial, which is expected to be completed late this year or early in 2010. The effort to raise private funds for the long-needed tribute remains $30,000 short of its goal of $600,000.

In the coming days, members of the community should close that gap.

We also should keep the family and friends of Deputy Etheridge in our prayers and hearts, so they may know what he surely did not — how much his career choice and too-brief public service meant to his community.