AUSTIN - It was a special occasion this week when 20 law enforcement officers were honored during a ceremony at the state Capitol.

As allowed by statute, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education presents 20 achievement awards each year. This year, 15 of the awards were for valor, three were for professional achievement and two were for public service.

Of the 15 awards for valor, eight were awarded to Ellis County-based officers:

Glenn Heights Police Department officer Keith A. Moore - award of valor for his efforts to save a woman from a burning house trailer March 23, 2006. Midlothian Police Department officers Dustin Compton, Cody McKinney and Sgt. Brian Woolery - awards of valor for their heroism exhibited in the line of fire during a standoff with a gunman Aug. 20, 2006. Department of Public Safety troopers Terry Eaton, Vance Griffin, Rick Smith and Bill Werkmeister - awards of valor for their heroism exhibited in the line of fire during a standoff with a gunman Aug. 20, 2006.

“This ceremony was a testament to these officers’ courage and dedication,” said state Rep. Jim Pitts, who attended the ceremony. “They place themselves in danger on a daily basis, and it was nice to see their efforts rewarded. I am especially proud that out of the 20 officers honored, eight of them call Ellis and Hill County home.”

State Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, gave the keynote address and stressed his support of law enforcement.

Whitmire talked of his friendships with officers - and of the tragic loss of one of those friends in the line of duty.

The stories of the honorees were impressive, Whitmire said, saying he would continue his efforts to ensure law enforcement in the state is provided what it needs.

“We need to rededicate ourselves to law enforcement,” he said. “We need to give them the tools they need and not balance our budgets on the backs of our officers.”

The 20 officers were selected from 76 nominees by an independent panel of public officials, individuals and officers. In turn, the 20 honorees were confirmed by the TCLEOSE commission.

Joe Stivers, a public member of the TCLEOSE commission, said, “It’s especially pleasing for me when we’re able to honor these law enforcement professionals, these young men and women who have been able to excel in their careers.

“In a split second, some of these people have to make life and death decisions, but they are trained to do so,” Stivers said. “I like to think that if I have even a little bit to do with that training, it’s a satisfying feeling.”

Each officer was recognized individually onstage and was presented with the TCLEOSE award, a proclamation from the governor and other mementos. The ceremony was hosted by CLEAT, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. As each officer was honored, the story of why he or she was being recognized was read.

“The officers and troopers recognized today showed true, selfless courage,” said state Sen. Kip Averitt, whose district includes Ellis County. “Law enforcement is a dangerous profession, and I am grateful that these men were willing to put their lives on the line to protect our community.”

“These awards of heroism are for someone who acts extraordinary in extraordinary situations,” TCLEOSE executive director Tim Braaten said, saying of the honorees, “They’d do it again.”

“When most people join law enforcement they don’t think of the times they’ll be called upon to be a hero,” Braaten said. “These obviously were prepared. They did what they had to do, what they were trained to do.”

Special mention was made during the ceremony of Cody McKinney’s father, Ellis County Constable Pct. 4 Steve McKinney, himself a previous valor award winner. The McKinneys are believed to be the only father-son recipients of the prestigious honor.

Steve McKinney received his award for valor in 1990 for his actions in a hostage situation that occurred at Carl’s Corner.

“After about a five-hour standoff with an armed subject who had a hostage, I was able to free the hostage by shooting the subject,” said McKinney, a DPS trooper at the time of the incident. “The hostage was freed un-harmed.”

Although the circumstances are somewhat different between the father and son’s awards, the elder McKinney said there is a main commonality.

“Both involved the protection of people, and that is the essence of our job,” he said, noting, “We don’t get paid for what we do so much as we get paid for what we may have to do.”

McKinney expressed his pride in his son and all of the other officers who were recognized for their response to the situation in Midlothian.

“I’m very proud of my son,” McKinney said. “Not only of him, but of all of the officers - they were there for him and for each other. That was just a very good example of the law enforcement family, how close it is and how it’s a brotherhood. There is a bonding between these men that will last a long time.”

Among the contingent of people attending the ceremony was Glenn Heights Police Chief Phillip Prasifka who said of his officer, “We’re extremely proud of him. He was extremely courageous, and he is definitely an example of what we hope we all stand for.”

DPS Sgt. Larry Adams, a former supervisor in Ellis County, attended the ceremony and expressed his pride in troopers Griffin, Smith and Werkmeister, who had served under his command when he was stationed here.

“I wouldn’t expect anything less from them,” Adams said. “This award is a testament to them, who they are and what they stand for. It doesn’t surprise me at all they went into the line of fire to help another officer.

“The vast majority of officers will never experience something like that. But it happened to them, and they stayed true to what they stand for,” Adams said.

E-mail JoAnn at editor@waxahachiedailylight.com