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**The Heroes of the High Country**

By: Patricia “Trish” Kanipe

Acting as the community liaison officer for the Boone Police Department, Officer Kat Eller has the difficult role of facilitating a healthy relationship with the community.  Prior to becoming a law enforcement officer, Officer Eller was a missionary in Macedonia and enjoyed working with the youth.  Little did she know how her life would change when she watched the events of 9/11 on television.  She was pulled to return to the US and pursue a career in Law Enforcement.   She graduated from Radcliff in VA with a degree in Criminal Justice in 1996 and then Basic Law Enforcement Training in 2002.  She served in various areas of law enforcement until 2007 when she landed a position with the Boone Police Department.  While in Boone, she earned an Advanced Law Enforcement certificate and completed the Criminal Investigators Program, among other honors.  Her dedication allowed her to serve in various positions until she reached her current role.  

Officer Eller and her two siblings were born into a small but loving home in the mountains of Virginia.  They enjoyed living off the land and growing up in a world free of today’s potential dangers.  She describes herself as a fun-loving, rambunctious tomboy who always pulled for the superhero on TV.  It’s no wonder that today she is an outdoor “junkie” and loves biking and camping with her husband and two dogs.  When not on duty, you will find her on the trails or having fun with her friends.  Kat once saw a picture of a roller coaster showing three rows of women with varied emotional expressions.  The caption read, “You can choose to live in the front row or the third row.” Her response was, “Live in the world of why not!” That spirit and courage are required of law enforcement officers and their families as they daily face the dangers of the unknown while protecting the community.

Dozens of troopers, sheriffs, and Boone police officers were asked one question: “Why law enforcement?” They voiced answers such as, “It’s a calling,” “It was law enforcement or the ministry, and I just wanted to help,” and “I’ve been a peacemaker all my life.” These statements, along with others, shared one fundamental concept—they had the heart to serve and help those in need.  However, there is another typically unseen side of Boone law enforcement officers.  Often unknown to the public, they volunteer many hours of their off-duty time to serve the community.  Perhaps their desire to help is the reason they volunteer.  For instance, two officers are on the Board of the State Council of Special Olympics and serve at the events.  A sergeant serves on the board of the Hunger and Health Coalition.  A Bed and a Book, Quiet Givers, Hospitality House, and Kelle’s Krib are a few of the many ways they serve the disadvantaged without seeking accolades.  In addition to organizations, they run community-related events such as blood drives, diaper drives, blanket collecting, and much more.  The list doesn’t stop there.  The words “I wanted to help” are a reality put into action but typically unknown to the community.

Today, law enforcement officers go beyond just apprehension.  They take the time to understand the reason for the criminal behavior.  For instance, if the subject is an addict or steals food because they are hungry, they are encouraged and assisted in receiving help.  When their desperation overrides their addiction, the patrol officer connects them to Officer Eller.  She then connects the person in need with the agency that can provide help.  In the future, a social worker will be on staff to offer care for those in need.  The concept behind an officer’s practice is to help prevent further criminal behaviors and break the cycle of lawlessness.  That hardly sounds like how they are often portrayed in today’s mixed media.  Long gone are the “cuff them and throw away the key” attitudes.

According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, 136 law enforcement officers nationwide died in the line of duty in 2023.  Amidst the danger, disrespect, and hardship on their families, law enforcement officers and their loved ones remain faithful and courageously serve the public.  Our voices need to be louder than the police haters shouting obscenities in the law enforcement officer’s face.  Should we not do something for them beyond a meager paycheck?  A simple thank you or a handshake when encountering them on the streets means the world.  Sending cards of appreciation to the station is warmly received.  You can pay for their meal in the restaurant.  On an extremely cold day, give them hand and sock warmers or bottled water when it is hot.  They and their families have difficult jobs, and they do it well, even under extreme circumstances.  I encourage you to stop appreciating them from afar.  They can’t hear you unless you take a step closer.