Tears flowed as police Maj. Gerald Honeywell rode atop a pirate-themed parade float Thursday evening through the streets of East Tampa.
His colleagues at the Tampa Police Department surprised him with the fancy ride to his retirement party, celebrating 30 years of service.
"This is huge for me," he later told a crowd of about 100 at Middleton High School. "It shows that you all know that I care."
Honeywell is one of three Tampa police majors retiring today. Majs. Ken Morman of the criminal investigation division and Jill Kwiatkowski of District I also leave after 30 years in law enforcement.
Honeywell had been a major for five years, four of which he served as commander of the District III that spans East Tampa.
"When you call, he is there," said Tonya Lewis, whose nonprofit, Children With a Vision, often hosts events that need crowd control. "He always made sure I had the officers I needed."
He prides himself that the number of complaints has grown since he became leader of District III — a sign that people are comfortable coming to him.
"I know I can take care of that complaint," Honeywell said in an interview. "A lot of it goes to personality conflicts. The citizens don't understand the officers and sometimes the officers don't understand the citizen. I know how to translate."
But being available 24 hours a day isn't easy.
"People told me, 'The other majors looked kind of emotional but you, you look okay,' " Honeywell laughed.
His commitment to the job wore him out. Now he wants to rest, continue to mentor youth and spend time with his wife, U.S. Judge Charlene Edwards-Honeywell, and his two children, Brenton and Brianna.
Before that, fellow officers wanted to give him a sendoff.
"In Tampa, we have a parade for everything," said Maj. Sophie Teague. "We can certainly throw a parade for Gerald Honeywell."
The float was donated by the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. The parade with two motorcycles leading and a procession of police vehicles behind the float came together after three weeks of planning, said Maj. Diane Hobley-Burney, who will take over as District III commander.
During his tenure, Honeywell had trials.
Two years ago, two of his district's officers, Dave Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, were shot and killed on duty. In 2011, several neighborhood market employees were shot during robberies.
"That was a life-changer," he said. "You pray every night for your troops and for the public. You never think it's going to happen."
But the tests never changed Honeywell's approach to community policing. He hands out his business card to anyone who will accept it. On the card: his cellphone number.
"I get calls at 2 o'clock in the morning about loud music, and I answer it," he said. He also stood out on N 29th Street and Lake Avenue twice a week to let people approach him with questions.
After growing up in Lincoln Gardens on the west side of town, he graduated from Jefferson High in 1977, then enrolled in Hillsborough Community College. He then spent four years in the U.S. Coast Guard, serving as a shore policeman.
Honeywell joined the Tampa Police Department in 1982 on a dare. He was working temporary jobs with a friend who said he was going to join the police force.
"I said, 'If you're going to join the police, then I know I can,' " he recalled. Both applied at several local agencies and Tampa police were the first to call Honeywell.
After joining the narcotics squad, Honeywell noticed he seemed to be arresting the same youngsters time and again. He talked to them and tried to set them on the right path.
Years later when he announced his retirement, one of those youths bought him a shirt and tie.
"I must have arrested him about 10 times when he was little," Honeywell said. "It made me feel good when he said 'Man, Honeywell is a good guy. He's a good cop.' "
There were lots of Tampa boys just like that young man.
"While being a cop and going around and looking at these kids, a lot of them just need guidance. A lot them have never been out of the neighborhood and when they go out of the neighborhood, it's to do bad," Honeywell said.
He watched their lack of direction turn to frustration, then anger and finally violence.
"I got tired of talking to people about how bad a kid was," he said. "God told me to do something, so I did."
He started the Building the Guts to Lead mentoring program at Middleton High in 2009, designed to introduce young men to local entrepreneurs and successful business people who grew up in their neighborhood.
His last group of 21 students had 12 seniors — all of whom graduated. Ten of the boys enrolled in college.
After his retirement, Honeywell hopes to continue changing the lives of at-risk children. His family hopes he'll spend some time at home.
"Dad, congrats on your retirement," said his daughter, Brianna, in front of the Middleton crowd. "And after 30 years of service, I'll be glad to have you home."