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Backing the Bonner Blue

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | September 11, 2022 1:00 AM

Imagine your favorite football team and there's a big game coming up.

"You hold a rally and you say, 'Go, team, go, you know, we're behind you all the way. We support you, rah, rah, rah,'" Jim Kelly, organizer of Saturday's Back the Bonner Blue event, said. "And that's what this is. It's a rally."

The event, now in its third year, drew between 75 and 90 people who stood on the sidewalk in front of the Bonner County Courthouse and Sandpoint Community Hall. Many held signs showing support for local law enforcement, some wore T-shirts with a similar message, and others waved the American flag as cars passing by honked in support or their drivers and passengers gave a thumbs up.

Kelly created the rally — a distinction he stresses — as a way to show support for local law enforcement after national riots and the treatment of police left many feeling dispirited. The first year he held the rally on his own, but for the past two years he has teamed up with the Bonner County Sheriff's Chaplains to spread the word and help organize the rally.

It's a very simple thing, Kelly said, adding that it is purely a matter of support for anyone in law enforcement — from deputies to the dispatchers to the clerks and corrections officers.

"All of the people who work in the law enforcement community need our support, because without it, the morale goes down and it's difficult for them to do the job," Kelly said.

The challenges facing modern police departments are making it hard to recruit officers, Kelly said. He wanted local law enforcement — from the front lines to those in support roles — to know the community cared about them and was here for them.

The group is not political and those who attend the rallies support any number of other groups, Kelly said.

"We support many groups, but this particular event is just for local law enforcement," he added. "I mean, obviously, we support law enforcement across the country, but this is for our local law enforcement, you know. We support them, we love them, we appreciate the job they do. We appreciate the things they go through. And this rally is just to let them know that there's somebody out here."

While they may know, on a certain level, that they have support, Kelly said the rally is a chance to show that support with a physical presence that the local law enforcement community can see for themselves.

"They are very thankful to all the people who came out today because, once again, they're seeing it for themselves," Kelly added. "It's not just that they've heard this and that people are supporting them. They're actually seeing it."

Most of those driving past are waving, with about a third honking their horns — some "very enthusiastically." Only a small minority have signaled their displeasure or disagreement with the rally's message.

Those folks, Kelly said, may have had a bad experience with the police or are under the misunderstanding that the rally is political in nature. He wants them to know that the rally is purely to let local law enforcement know they are supported and that the community appreciates the job they are doing to keep its residents safe.

"I just really want to drive it home that this is not political," he said. "It's not about one group whose lives being more important than the other... this is a rally."

Since the rally began in 2020, Kelly said the event has grown and is gaining momentum. While the numbers of rally-goers weren't as large as last year's, he said the vast number of events going on during the weekend meant that many people weren't able to make it.

"[I've gotten] lots of good reactions and lots of people saying, 'This is great. I can't make it, but I support you.'"

Seeing the crowds waving posters and flags and passersby honking and waving hello means a great deal to his employees, Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler said.

"In Bonner County, we're incredibly blessed to live here with such great support for law enforcement, and this is really a tribute to law enforcement and the service that they provide to those who live here and visit here," he said.

Seeing the support boosts their spirits and makes them realize the community cares about them, Wheeler said.

"I think it encourages each officer to do the best job they can, and also, I think it reminds us that sets us apart from the rest of the country because we're so unique and have such a groundswell of support for law enforcement here."

For him, Wheeler said he feels blessed to have the community's support.

"To me personally, I'm blessed to be able to be in this position and I'm probably the luckiest guy, the luckiest sheriff in the world or in the country," he added.

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(Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER)

Area residents take part in Saturday's Back the Bonner Blue rally. The event, now in its third year, attracted about 75 to 90 people who turned out to show support for local law enforcement.

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(Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER)

A man waves to a passing car as he takes part in Saturday's Back the Bonner Blue rally.

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