By JB Clark
BAY ST. LOUIS – Two Tupelo police officers were given the Officer of the Year award Saturday night for their efforts to keep the city safe during an armed bank robbery Dec. 23.
Officer Joseph Maher and Sgt. Gale Stauffer were honored during the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers’ Association’s annual conference.
Charlie Sims, the association’s executive secretary treasurer, said the award is given each year to the officer or officers who performed exceptional service in making their community a safer place.
“In this instance, they were responding to a bank alarm,” he said. “They were diligent in attempting to get to a vehicle matching the description and they were unfortunately ambushed. Even though they knew they were going into a dangerous situation and they were ready to do what they were called to do.”
The officers pursued the armed bank robber on foot in gridlocked traffic and were both shot, Stauffer fatally.
“For the two of our officers to receive this award, Gale posthumously, signifies that law enforcement does recognize the ultimate sacrifice he gave and we’re proud he did serve,” said Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre. “Officer Maher, who’s lucky to be walking today, is a testament to the law enforcement community coming together and supporting an officer who was seriously injured. We’re thankful for the recognition of his sacrifice.”
Maher and Beth Stauffer, Sgt. Stauffer’s wife, accepted the awards in Bay St. Louis on Saturday.
“It’s very humbling as their chief to have them receive this award,” Aguirre said. “I wish I had both officers there to receive it, but I’m thankful I have one.”
Aguirre said Maher has been in and out of the police station in recent weeks, but not in an official capacity.
“He comes down to the station and visits and we encourage him to get down here and hang out with the other officers,” Aguirre said. “It does him some good and we’re always excited to see him.”
He said Maher has surgery in July that should help with nerve problems and will hopefully bring Maher a step closer to returning to work.