Yesterday, two St. Petersburg police officers were killed in the line of duty. Wow, somehow writing it down makes it seem more real. I like to think of myself as an experienced law man. I've been on the job now for seventeen years, and I have been to more police funerals than I care to remember. And while each of them was heart wrenching, none have been so difficult to bear as the deaths of Sergeant Baitinger and Officer Yaslowitz. This one is somehow more personal. These were not just brother officers doing the same job; they were next-door neighbors working the same streets and dealing with the same people that my officers and I have worked and dealt with for years.
The Pinellas County law enforcement community is very tight-knit. Because of our close boundaries, we work together and see each other constantly. We are, without a doubt, a family, and it's been a long time since this has happened to one of us. In fact, the last time was while I was attending the police academy in 1993. Officer Jeffery Tackett of the Belleair Police Department was killed while trying to apprehend a burglary suspect. I recall the sensation of incredible anger and a strong desire to help however possible. I felt the same emotions yesterday as I stood by other members of our family at the St. Petersburg command post, wanting nothing more than to go in and get the man responsible.
Every May, the sheriff hosts a memorial ceremony where we honor those who have lost their lives in the service of Pinellas County residents. The names of fallen officers are read aloud, and each year I wonder when another name will be added. Last year, I noted that it had been seventeen years since a name was put on the list--the longest gap we've ever had. And I hoped and prayed it wasn't a sign that somebody was due.
That good fortune came to an end yesterday, as we were all suddenly and harshly reminded of the dangers we face in our line of work. Evil manifested itself in a violent and unthinkable manner, killing two of our family and wounding another. Today, tomorrow, and in the coming days, we will attempt to mourn this loss and put some meaning behind what happened. As we do that, I for one will endure emotions that I thought were made dormant from life experience.
I am frustrated, angry, and sad over the loss, as are likely most of those who live and work in Tampa Bay. Yet as I listened to the St. Petersburg District 1 radio traffic yesterday morning, and as I stood at the command post with Chief Harmon yesterday afternoon, I began to experience an entirely unexpected emotion. I witnessed first-hand the bravery of my fellow officers as they begged to go back and face death to try and save their friend. I watched as an entire city put aside its issues and poured its collective support into hoping for the best. In the midst of this awful tragedy, I saw people, all kinds of people and lots of them, simply doing the right thing.
The result of all this for me was a seemingly conflicting sense of great pride in my profession and my community. At first I felt guilty for having positive emotions at such a time, but as I sit here and put my thoughts into words, I think I'm seeing things exactly as I should. I also think I am not alone. I predict that this terrible loss will have a positive impact on all of us in this family. We will grieve, but we will move forward and come back with a stronger sense of community and with a better focus on the direction we need to go.
*Note to media representatives--
I published this post today because I want my officers and my small community of blog followers to know how I feel about this situation. However, I think it would be inappropriate for my statements to be published or reproduced in a larger media outlet at this time. I would not want my statements to overshadow or take attention away from those of Chief Harmon or Mayor Foster as they lead the city's time of grief. They have an incredible responsibility, and I believe they are owed that respect. Thank you for your consideration.