- Associated Press - Monday, October 19, 2015

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - Jonesboro police Lt. John Shipman approached the man with the same trepidation he had learned in his years of law enforcement service.

On the one hand, Shipman knew the man was down on his luck; on the other, his compassion was tempered with necessary caution. Ultimately, the man posed no risk - to the relief of Shipman - and the officer quickly employed his duty to “serve and protect.”

Talking with the man, Shipman learned he had not slept on a bed in at least a month. What happened next set in motion a series of events that has developed into one of the city’s fastest-growing community assistance initiatives.

Shipman contacted a church which helped the man locate a bed on which to sleep. Food was provided along with a shower and refreshed faith for the man in the city in which he had found himself struggling.

“It cost the church $39 to do that,” Shipman recalled, adding that the experience solidified the officer’s belief that “not everybody down on their luck is an alcoholic or a bad person.”

“I wanted to (help) ever since,” Shipman told The Jonesboro Sun (https://bit.ly/1LQRn5F ). “I said ‘what can we do?’ We can’t save the world, but we can help one person at a time.”

That experience served as a springboard to an effort that now includes many local businesses, churches and other support groups. Shipman admits he did not coin either phrase of “Back the Blue” or “In God We Trust.” But he combined the two and formed an initiative that helps both members of the public struggling to survive as well as fellow police officers and staff.

“In police work we see a little bit of everybody,” Shipman said. “We see bad people, but sometimes we see people that are in need.”

Shipman cited examples of people he encountered who needed something. One needed a car battery to get to and from work, and a woman whose home had been robbed was left without basic necessities to continue a productive lifestyle.

Those are the individuals the lieutenant initially set out to help. Unable to provide the monetary assistance needed by those people, the officer recruited the help of many individuals and companies throughout the city and county.

“That couple hundred bucks to them is like a couple thousand dollars to everybody else,” Shipman said. “Not everyone has someone they can count on for help. I do have that; I’m blessed. We’re a rich community. We’re a blessed community.”

Feedback from his requests floored Shipman. He began printing T-shirts and other clothing apparel with a unique “Back the Blue” logo that combines his religious belief with his support of law enforcement. More than 600 items of clothing have been purchased to support the cause.

“I can’t keep up,” said Shipman, who has seen a Facebook page grow to 1,500 followers in just two weeks. “I’m working with a major chain that may take this thing up.”

Shipman said he has fielded calls from people and companies from Kentucky, Alabama and California, among other states throughout the nation. He said he gradually sold more of the fundraising apparel each night of the Northeast Arkansas District Fair and continues to receive text messages, phone calls, email and Facebook messages from those who want to participate.

His colleagues also have received help from the multi-faceted effort. Shipman presented $2,500 to a pair of fellow officers who are facing tough times. One suffered an on-the-job injury and has undergone several medical procedures and has yet to be cleared to return to work. Shipman presented another $2,500 check to a fellow officer whose wife is battling cancer.

A website is under construction for Shipman’s charity, and those who wish to assist may contact Design Signs at 3529 E. Nettleton Ave., or Unique Ink, a Jonesboro business that recently held a grand opening at its location at 2203 E. Nettleton Ave.

While Shipman has been surprised by the pace of his effort’s momentum, he is not taken aback by the support itself.

“I don’t have any idea what it’s like to work in a town that hates you (as a law enforcement official),” he said. “Jonesboro has not let me down yet in their willingness to support a good cause.”


Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com

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