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Committee of Oklahoma City civic leaders supports law enforcement behind the scene

FILE - Authorities investigate an early morning house fire in the 1100 block of NW 80 Street in Oklahoma City that claimed the lives of a woman and a child, whose names were not immediately released on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
FILE - Authorities investigate an early morning house fire in the 1100 block of NW 80 Street in Oklahoma City that claimed the lives of a woman and a child, whose names were not immediately released on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

The Committee of One Hundred quietly has been supporting Oklahoma City police officers, firefighters and their families for more than four decades.

The original Committee of One Hundred was founded during the 1950s when a Detroit car dealer read about a police officer slain in the line of duty. The officer's family was left destitute after his death, so the businessman gathered donations of $100 from 100 of his friends and delivered the money to the officer's wife and children.

About 70 reported organizations have sprung up around the country since. Tracking their numbers and membership is difficult, because these committees work quietly without asking for public donations, and keep themselves out of the public eye.

"We're just a nonprofit that's trying to help the front-line troops, the police officers and firefighters on the streets. It has been and will continue to be very low key. We try to make it just about them and not about us, and so it's not well known," said Executive Director Richard DeLaughter.

DeLaughter is a 33-year veteran Oklahoma City police officer who retired as the assistant chief.

"Ours was brought to us by the recommendation of the FBI agent in charge here in Oklahoma City in '76, and he got with some business leaders, community leaders at the time. Robert S. Kerr was involved with it, and some of those folks," DeLaughter said. "I can tell you, in the 1970s, there wasn't that much money around either. You didn't have insurance policies at the federal level for law enforcement or firefighters, so those folks at that time decided that was a good thing to do, so they started it here and it's been going ever since."

Limited to 100 members paying $100 annual dues when founded, the current Committee of One Hundred in Oklahoma City has grown to 225 members. Yearly dues are now $300.

"There's no fundraising. It's membership dues that support the organization," DeLaughter said.

The committee initially helped cash-strapped agencies purchase equipment like protective vests and fire equipment.

"The days of us buying equipment to support and supplant what they could do within the budgets have kind of faded. Our emphasis now is personal things that help the officer," DeLaughter said. "We have a program where if a police officer or firefighter is killed in the line of duty, myself and the president for that year will take the widow or spouse a check for $5,000, so that they immediately have cash.

"They don't have to request it. We just go out and give it to them to help them through the first few days of what they're having to deal with," he said.

Although primarily an Oklahoma City organization, the Committee of One Hundred has helped law officers and their families across the metro in times of need and distress.

"The decision was made several years ago that we would honor and support OHP because they're based here, they're based in the Oklahoma City area," DeLaughter said.

Jim Daniel is the current president of the Committee of One Hundred and the vice chairman of BancFirst Corp.

Daniel said he'd heard of the Committee of One Hundred for decades but only became a member five or six years ago. He was chosen for the job in 2016, and will continue to act as president through June.

"They didn't even ask me if I wanted the job, but I was glad to be a part of it," he said. "I've always had a passion for firefighters and police and people who look after our safety."

Besides quarterly board meetings, the Committee of One Hundred only holds two annual events: an awards banquet in the spring and a fall outing. The fall outing is the more relaxed of the two: an outdoor gathering for families of the committee and law officers to attend.

During the banquet — a black-tie affair — public safety officers are recognized for their outstanding service to the community.

"When we have our annual banquet in March, that's when people are recognized. It isn't about the Committee of One Hundred. It's to make the people of service know that they're appreciated," Daniel said.

"We identify, through recommendations sent in by various police departments and fire departments around the metro area, acts of courage. The departments send those in to us, and we have a committee that reviews them and makes recommendations to the board as it relates to awarding them cash rewards," DeLaughter said.

Banquet speakers over the years have included author Tom Clancy, astronaut Eugene Cernan and actor Chuck Norris, as well as a slew of federal authorities, military personnel and international police leaders.

"There's nothing secret about it. There's nothing that we don't want people to know about, but at the same time, we just try to help out behind the scenes as best we can," DeLaughter said.

And the committee might get a bit larger if Daniel has anything to say about it.

"I'm going to recommend that we raise it to 250 people and bring other people in if they're interested in participation," he said.

The committee is slowly increasing its public profile. Even today, many police officers and firefighters don't even know the committee.

"The fact that these guys and gals are risking themselves for the benefit of others, that to me is faith at its utmost," Daniel said. "People want to see your heart. These people have their heart in their work."

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