Soft cries and sniffles pierced the air of USC Aiken's Etherredge Center on Thursday night as more than 100 people watched a screening of the police documentary “Heroes Behind the Badge.”
The 90-minute documentary, released in the fall of 2012, tells the stories of several men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line and survived, and the stories of those who didn't survive as told by their family and friends.
The film features raw, emotional interviews with officers who watched helplessly as a colleague lay dying within reach of a criminal's gunfire, a son whose mother was killed with another officer while trying to serve a warrant on an accused murderer, and a boy who was the recipient of an officer's final act of kindness minutes before he was assassinated.
The film culminates with a yearly ceremony at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., where thousands gather to remember lawmen who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Executive Producer Bill Erfurth saw four of his close friends murdered in the line of duty during his first five years on the Miami police force.
“The true intention of this film was to change perception and attitudes, to create a greater sense of respect and appreciation for the losses within law enforcement,” Erfurth said on Thursday. “I want people to be profoundly moved and have a bit of a wake-up call … to say, 'Hey, I never realized a cop is killed in America every 54 hours. I have a greater sense of respect and appreciation for the job that they do.'”
The film features a two-time British Academy Award-winning director and a two-time Emmy-winning cinematographer, with narration by Vincent D'Onofrio of TV's “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”
Erfurth said the film has received such support in the past year that it spawned a sequel.
Jessica Roberts, a deputy with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, saw the movie and wanted to have a screening in Aiken.
“I want them to know that this is a reality, that we do face that,” she said.
Erfurth wants the film to have as much of an impact on law enforcement officers.
“Four different officers have approached me and said, 'Hey, if I hadn't watched your film, I might be dead today because I wasn't wearing my vest. I was complacent, I was lackadaisical,'” he said. “It was one of those attitudes that it happens everywhere else but not to me.”
It's happened in the CSRA.
Richmond County Sheriff's Office Deputy J.D. Paugh was killed in the line of duty in October 2011.
The Aiken Department of Public Safety lost two officers, Scotty Richardson and Sandy Rogers, in December 2011 and January 2012. Richardson's name appears in the end credits with other officers killed in the United States in 2011.
Thirty percent of the ticket proceeds from Thursday's screening will go toward scholarship and memorial funds set up in the names of Paugh, Richardson and Rogers, as well as one in the name of Sgt. Jason Sheppard, an Aiken County officer who was killed in the line of duty in 2006.
Richardson's wife Amelyn was at Thursday's screening, and so was Rogers' life partner of 27 years, Frances Williams. Williams formerly worked with Aiken Public Safety and is now an officer with the USC Aiken Police Department.
“They said preview it beforehand. I didn't want to because I didn't know what it was going to be like,” Williams said after the screening, wearing a button with Rogers' picture on it. “It's eye opening. It's informative.”
Williams said she hopes people who watch the film will have more respect and appreciation for law enforcement.
“There are so many people out there that hate police officers, or think police officers are second-class citizens,” she said. “… If people watch this movie, they would have a clue. They would want to help, they would stand behind us. There's always gonna be those that just don't care. They just don't care.”
Erfurth hopes the documentary will get people to care.
A city board of commissioners bent on cutting police salaries and positions decided not to after watching the film; the Texas state legislature wants to put a copy in every high school in the state; and the Aiken County Sheriff's Office plans to show the film as part of its officer training.
“Life goes on. You have to remember them as heroes,” Erfurth said. “We have heroes in this world, whether they're military, police or fire or your average Joe that does something heroic. You have to remember them that way.”
The film can be purchased on iTunes or on DVD and Blu-ray by visiting www.Heroes-BehindtheBadge.com.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012.
He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.
Followup film released in December 2013
Due to the success and support of “Heroes Behind the Badge,” a followup film was produced and released in December 2013.
“Heroes Behind the Badge: Sacrifice & Survival” tells the harrowing stories of officers killed in the line of duty, but focuses more on those who were critically injured in the line of duty and survived, according to Executive Producer Bill Erfurth.
The film takes viewers to the “most spectacular” designations in the United States, including Mount Ranier National Park in Washington state, Moab, Utah and New York City.
Fifty percent of the net proceeds from both films will go to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. The film can be purchased on iTunes or by visiting www.HeroesBehindtheBadge.com.