Benton 'Officer of the Year' Eric Porter is a life saver
There are three incidents that easily made Eric Porter the clear choice of the Benton Police Department's 2011 Officer of the Year recipient.
In 2011, 30-year-old Porter literally walked into fire and smoke filled apartments; despite a man with a weapon holding his family hostage, Porter snuck the two children out and convinced the man to put down his weapons and walk out; and third, he talked a suicidal man off the Alcoa Road overpass, which is directly above Interstate 30. But probably his greatest attribute, is that he gives the recognition of a "well-done-job" to those around him.
"It was good team work on the part of shift 4 and I just followed my training," Porter wrote on a commendation letter. On another he wrote, "I just did what I thought was right." And finally on the third commendation letter for the 7-year law enforcement officer, Porter wrote, "Thanks. Just doing my job."
The award ceremony was held Wednesday in the Council Chambers of the Benton Municipal Complex, but Porter was unaware he was even nominated. So much so, that he found out while being out of town.
"YOu know the biggest thing was that I didn't even know I was nominated; nobody told me so it was just a complete and utter surprise. So i was like, really?" Porter said with a laugh. "My family and I were really ecstatic! I just wish I could have been there."
He added, "It's definitely an honor. It's mostly disbelief because the instances (the committee) used to vote on seemed like just another day at work. You don't think of anything like that. In the heat of the moment you don't go out and think 'I got to do this so I can get recognized' or anything like that. It's just a part of the job and you go do your work. It's nice getting recognition for it, but I definitely don't expect it."
Porter, who started his law enforcement career in Caddo Valley (near Arkadelphia) in 2005 while attending Henderson State University, was hired by the Benton Police Department on Feb. 5, 2007. He started on patrol and later became a field training officer (mentoring new officers). But it was a moment at the emergency room of Saline Memorial Hospital in which Porter's true calling was discovered.
Porter said there was a man that was "freaking out" about his girlfriend who was just in a vehicle accident. He said the hospital staff couldn't concentrate on the girlfriend, because the man was "grabbing everyone's attention."
"I talked him down and told him that it would be in the best interest of his girlfriend if he let the medical staff focus on her instead of him," Porter recalled. "You know they're not thinking rationally and the biggest thing is to just calm them down, so that way they can think about what they're doing or what they are about to do."
He added, "I told him to go home and in a little while he could call up there and check on her … after that was done, some other officers said 'Wow! I thought we may have to fight this guy, but you talked some sense into him.'"
He said that was "the first hint" that he had the gift of gab to lead people from dangerous situations, to calm, rational situations. Porter said he began going on a lot of calls with Hostage Negotiator Cpl. Daniel Creasey, who one day flat-out told him "to put in a letter to be a hostage negotiator."
The department agreed, sent Porter to numerous FBI training classes at the Criminal Justice Institute, as well as other organization trainings. Porter said a highlight was attending a hostage negotiating class put on by a 30 year veteran of the New York Police Department.
"The biggest thing I got from all those classes was probably active listening skills," he said. "A lot of people use it in the corporate world, and it basically lets people know you're listening to them. If someone is upset or (emotionally) fragile, they are talking about a bunch of nonsense or not making any sense … you can just sit there and reassure them that you're listening to them. And you try to understand what they are going through, but at least let them know that you are listening and that your empathetic, not sympathetic; because nobody wants pity."
Porter said that often times people have a misconception about law enforcement officers. He said many believe that they are "very direct, stern and telling orders" but that is far from the truth. It is not only what keeps officers like Porter safe, but it helps save the lives of other people.
For instance, on March 27, 2011 about 5 a.m., Porter was the first emergency responder to arrive at the scene of an apartment duplex. The report said that Porter went into one apartment to make sure no person was inside, despite "knowing the only thing between him and the raging fire was a thin wall."
Porter then found another apartment with the door locked, but "without hesitation, he kicked the door open and cleared the living room area when Benton firefighters arrived and cleared the smoke filled remainder of the apartment." On the commendation letter, Sgt. Hanley Taylor wrote that Porter should be recognized for his "immediate response without hesitation to check on a burning home for human life where time is of the essence. This shows the degree of care that Officer Porter, like many other officers, have for human life."
"I have a family and I couldn't imagine losing a family member, especially to something as tragic as a house fire," Porter told The Saline Courier on Friday. "
But just as Porter walked out of the burning building, he jumped in the police cruiser and headed to a home where a man with a weapon had barricaded himself and children inside. A mother of the two young children inside told dispatch that her husband was "really drunk" that he called her cell demanding that she come to the home "right then." The man also reportedly told her that there were guns in the home and that he planned to "kill her and kill the kids."
When Porter reached the home, he was able to sneak up to a window where he noticed "a toddler and maybe the other child was 5."
"We were able to sneak in and grab the two children and take them out to their mother safely," he explained. "Then I was able to make contact with him over the telephone and i talked with him for a little while. He was pretty intoxicated, but i was able to get him to leave the weapons and talked him out of the house."
But just when people expect those Hollywood-type-drama-scenes of officers rushing the home to throw the person on the ground roughly, Porter chose another route. He said the man asked if he could get a drink for his dry mouth. Porter let the man have his request.
"I let everyone know he was gonna be coming out so all the officers surrounded the perimeter so that when they see him they would know exactly what was going on," Porter said. "I had him take his shirt off so we could see if he had any weapons in his waste band. (The man) walked over to the kitchen sink, took a drink of water, walked out and turned himself in to the initial responding officer."
He said of the mother, "She was pretty upset at the time and it's a great feeling when you have a frantic mother, especially one that is worried about her children, and your able to hand their child of to them safe … anytime you have a stressful situation like that adrenaline kicks in. You rely on your training and there were several officers surrounding the house. That entire instance was just nothing more than great team work on my entire shift. Everybody coordinated everything and it just worked out great."
These two incidents happened nearly at the exact same time on the same exact day. Porter, again, said it is what law enforcement officers are bound to witness everyday. Sometimes though, not all the situations end well.
Porter said it is very important for officers to believe in each other at the scene of any situation.
"You've got to trust your guys," he said. "I work with them on a daily basis and you know there's a lot of trust involved in that. Because you know you go into stressful situations all the time and you watch others backs, that is how you get through it. Trust the guy your working with. He's got to know what he's doing and you got to know what your doing, plus the other guys have to know what they are doing. It's just teamwork."
But Porter relies on the strength of his years of experience, continuous diligent training, trusting his fellow officers, and a strong family to hold each night. He said it is "definitely my family" that inspires him each day, and that he uses his believe in a loving family that helps save lives.
"I think I can talk my way in and out of a lot of things, especially when approaching someone that is very upset," Porter said. "Even if it is just a traffic stop, I like to treat everyone how I would want any officer to treat my mother, grandmother or any of my family members. You got to be as nice as you can for as long as you can, because if you show someone courtesy and respect you often get it back."
It is that type of demeanor that Porter used to stop another tragedy from happening. About 6 a.m. on Sept. 7, 2011, officers were dispatched to the Alcoa overpass that is over the constant heavy flow of traffic I-30. A man was threatening to end his life by jumping off, but thankfully, Porter was there.
"In a situation like this you walk up slowly, because you don't want to run up and startle them. They don't know what to expect from a law enforcement point of view," Porter said. "I always start off just walking up slowly and I say 'Hi, I'm officer Porter with the Benton Police Department. I'm here to help you. You know I'm not going to hurt you.' and 'I just want to talk to you … hey whats your name?' I repeat my name and kind of see whats going on and start getting some information from them. I give reassurance to them so they know your not there to hurt them, but you are there to help them."
He added, "After awhile in the conversation you do earn a persons trust and everything will be OK. I make a couple of suggestions here and there, which again its not an order. It's not like 'You're going to the hospital!' Instead, it's like 'You know there are a lot of better options out there. There are plenty of medical professionals, counselors, or other people you can talk to and help sort through your problems.'"
Porter said he and the man had a calm, rational conversation. It caused the distraught man to recollect his thoughts and decide to seek help with a hospital "instead of jumping off the bridge."
Porter is just one of many law enforcement men and women with the same ideals and dedication. But his superiors noticed that Porter has rare traits that can utilized in certain roles. It is why Porter is not just a patrol officer, and he doesn't just have the title of Hostage Negotiator, he exemplifies that title.
"Officer Porter's dedication to his profession makes him an extremely valuable member of shift 4 and the patrol division, thus making him a strong asset to the Benton Police Department, City of Benton and the citizens," Sgt. Taylor and Lt. Curtis Wood wrote in the commendation letter after the man decided not to jump off the bridge.
But on the letter, though he is well known by many of his peers as "a talker," Porter responds on the letter, "Thanks. (I was) just doing my job."