KU Cares: Jayhawks on the Front Lines - Officer Lamar Sharpe

LaMar Sharpe was a member of the Kansas Jayhawks football team from 1994-97. After his days of collegiate football, Sharpe returned home to Akron, Ohio to try out for the NFL. Sharpe went on to work as a corrections officer, where he began to make an impact on kids’ lives. Sharpe later became a police officer for the City of Canton Police Department, where he has served for the past 18 years. In addition to his service as a police officer, Sharpe and his wife, Deidra, started the Be A Better Me Foundation (BABM) to help guide youth to make better decision that will impact their lives. Sharpe has gained notoriety for his service to the community of Canton, being named the 2018 Stark County Person of the Year, among other awards. Sharpe and the City of Canton Police Department are now helping guide the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Q: What have the past few weeks been like for you, working as a police officer in Canton, Ohio during this pandemic?

“The past few weeks have been very trying for first responders all over the world. Trying to make sure to help those in need, not knowing if they are a carrier of the COVID virus or not, and do your job. Not having all of the necessary personal protective equipment can cause a lot of stress on top of an already stressful job. Being a type 2 diabetic, this virus can cause me to fight the battle of my life if contracted. However, I do not think about that once I put my police uniform on. I have a job to do and people counting on me. So, I put my life on the line to ensure the safety of others.”

Q: What has been the effect of the pandemic on the city of Canton?

“The biggest effect is the uncertainty of how long this pandemic will last. Stores, at times, are at the bare minimum and it makes people worry about how they are going to make it. I do believe it has shown how resilient the Canton community has been with everyone doing what they can to help their fellow citizens.”

Q: What has changed for you in your role as a police officer?

“The thing that has changed the most in my daily duties as an officer is really protecting myself so that I can effectively do my job. I have to continuously sanitize myself at work and make sure that I do not bring anything home as well. I also have to be more diligent in building my immune system when I’m off work to ensure that I am able to do my duties to the best of my ability. Also, being a community officer, it makes it very hard to go into homes and check on the people I normally check on.”

Q: How have you or someone you know been affected by COVID-19?

“I have seen quite a few friends who have family members that have contracted the virus and some have actually died from complications. Our department has had officers that have become very ill in the last couple of weeks but were unable to receive COVID tests because they were not available to us.”

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of adjusting to this pandemic?

“The most challenging aspect of adjusting has been seeing citizens within the community with so much stress on their daily lives. Normally I work in the community and schools, but due to the State of Emergency, we have to pull officers from all bureaus to make sure that we can effectively handle the call volume that is coming into our department. Another challenge is not being able to see my children and grandchildren during this pandemic too. A lot of front line workers are not able to see many of their loved ones because we are exposed to so much on a daily basis and we do not want to pass anything on to them.”

Q: With your foundation, “Be A Better Me,” what is your message that you are spreading during these tough times?

“Our message at BABM, is for everyone to stay home and do your part to defeat this silent enemy. Take time to enjoy your family and try to create new memories. We are currently working on our virtual tutoring to help students with their work so that they do not fall behind.”

Q: What positives are you experiencing from your situation?

“The positives that I am experiencing is how amazing our community has responded to this pandemic. Feels like our community is doing whatever they can to help anyone in need, while doing it with all of the safety precautions asked of them by the state.”

Q: What are some ways the public can help people that are working on the front lines?

“The best thing for the community to do is to stay home, and if they must go out, wear a mask and protect yourself. A kind gesture of any sorts helps build the moral of our front-line workers. Some people have dropped off letters of encouragement and even dropped off gift cards for coffee to help us throughout the vigorous shifts.”

Q: How has your experience as a police officer or in life in general helped you today?

“This experience has helped me appreciate all of the little things that we often take for granted in our normal daily routines. It makes you value your family so much more.  When this is all over, I’m going to have a lock in with my family! Lol.”

Q: Are there any situations or stories that you have experienced so far that you would be able to share?

“Last week I was at the hospital about to take a warrant suspect to our county jail, when I watched nurses rush to grab their PPE (personal protective equipment) because an ambulance was pulling in with a confirmed COVID patient. Knowing that it was person about to cross my path with the deadly virus can really heighten your anxiety, especially knowing how deadly and contagious the virus is.”