TAMPA — A special camaraderie exists among police officers who work patrol jobs like Master Patrol Officer Victor Guerrero.
Those who pound the pavement and keep their eyes and ears on the neighborhoods are the force's front lines, police officers say, and the danger involved brings about a solidarity among members.
They are like family.
"We back each other up," Guerrero's supervisor, Sgt. Garrett Allen, told a group of reporters Wednesday.
Almost on cue, 10 of his squad members in blue uniforms, white gloves and black-striped badges lined up behind him.
They came to remember Guerrero, a father of six, killed May 1 in a crash between his motorcycle and a Pasco County government truck. He lived in Brooksville and was off duty at the time.
A bagpiper's notes filled St. Lawrence Catholic Church's courtyard Wednesday as police officers carried Guerrero's flag-draped casket inside while hundreds of uniformed officers stood motionless in respect. A classroom on the parochial school grounds nearby let out, and green-uniformed boys and plaid-skirted girls stared solemnly, moving quietly to their next room without uttering a word.
Inside the church, 400 police officers and 200 others heard Monsignor Laurence Higgins tell them about Guerrero, 47, in simple words. He was the first of many to describe Guerrero as a family man, then an officer.
"The man was a good man," he said. "He did his work. He did his work well."
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio called him "an uncommon man" who earned everyone's respect. She addressed Guerrero's wife, Lara, and tried to relate to her pain, having lost her police bodyguard in a car crash in 2006.
"It seems so unfair, Lara. I stood here before just two years ago wondering why such a kind and good person was taken from our lives," she said in an apparent reference to Tampa police Detective Juan Serrano.
She went on to say it was important to focus on the gift Guerrero left his family, which was the time he spent with them.
"We will never forget the public service and the goodness of a man named Vic Guerrero," Iorio said.
Guerrero spent his entire career on patrol and gave guidance to younger officers over his 21 years, Chief Stephen Hogue added. He said Guerrero could have chosen to put in for a desk job but preferred to work the streets.
"He could have chosen something with less danger, something with less stress," Hogue said. "He chose that life."
Guerrero's sergeant said he did so because it fit him.
"Family was first to him," Allen said, and the officer seemed to treat squad members with the same closeness.
At the service, pieces of Guerrero's pasts collided, each claiming a piece of him as family.
Marines — who believe once in the corps, always in the corps — came, honoring the four years Guerrero put in. One of them gave an American flag to Guerrero's oldest son, Michael.
Hogue, who had told Guerrero's family they were now part of Tampa police family, presented Mrs. Guerrero a folded American flag as well.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or email@example.com.