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Often honored, Tampa Police Cpl. Mike Roberts inspired peers and saved lives

TAMPA — Cpl. Mike Roberts was what they call "good police."

In 11 years with the Tampa Police Department, he saved lives, reassured victims, calmed heartbroken families and still managed to keep his colleagues laughing on the darkest days.

Roberts, 38, died Wednesday night during a confrontation with a heavily armed man pushing a grocery cart.

He leaves behind a wife, Cynthia, a 3-year-old son, Adam, and pages of records and anecdotes that show how he loved serving his community by being a cop.

"He was one of the best police officers," Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said. "He was the best."

Roberts received 33 commendations and awards for his actions over the years. Evaluations use words like "highly skilled, mature and professional," "conscientious," "thorough" and "meticulous."

In 2004, the father of murder victim Katrina Froeschle wrote a letter to Roberts' commander describing the father's grief at learning his daughter's body had been dumped in a river.

"Despite my sometimes difficult behavior and the horror of the entire scene, Officer Roberts performed his work professionally at all times and with care and compassion for all of us at the scene," Jeff Froeschle wrote. "He never lost his composure and always remained considerate of our distress and anxiety."

A year later, the Tampa Police Department awarded Roberts its rare "Life Saving Award" after he and two other officers rescued a suicidal man from hanging himself off the side of the Howard Frankland Bridge.

"There's a man alive today who wouldn't be alive today if Mike wasn't a Tampa police officer," Chief Stephen Hogue said Thursday.

Last year, in an evaluation, a supervisor described what sets Roberts apart: "He conducts complete and thorough investigations and leaves the victim with assurance the suspect will be caught," he wrote.

When Roberts trained officers in the field, he was pegged as someone who could deal with the most difficult recruits.

He spent five years working with the K-9 unit, but he was promoted to corporal last month and assigned to patrol District 2, the area where he was killed.

Roberts loved the dogs so much, Officer Frank Kelley jokingly asked if he was sure he was ready to stop working with the animals.

At an afternoon news conference, Kelley struggled to keep composure as he described his friend of 12 years. He met Roberts while the two were in the military, serving in the former Yugoslavia together. He is the godfather to Roberts' son.

Kelley said he was drawn to Roberts for his sense of humor. Roberts helped him learn to loosen up when he was tightly wound.

"I could go on and on about him," Kelley said, "but honestly one thing comes to mind and that's I'm gonna miss my friend."

Last month, Roberts received the "Excellent Duty Award" for his response to a March incident in which a 3-year-old girl named Elizabeth Chandler disappeared from 4011 N Howard Ave.

As Roberts prepared the canines to search for the child's scent, he decided to do a quick sweep of a parking lot himself.

After looking in several cars, he found her screaming inside a gray Nissan, where she had somehow climbed and trapped herself for 35 minutes — too young and scared to know how to get out.

"When you rescued her from the vehicle, where by now the interior temperature had raised to a life-threatening level," Maj. Russell Marcotrigiano wrote to Roberts, "Elizabeth was soaked by her own body sweat and was screaming uncontrollably. You reached for little Elizabeth and she embraced you with open arms."

Besides police work, Roberts served with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army. Originally from Canada, police said, Roberts also holds a degree in business administration from Memorial University of Newfoundland.

An avid sports fan, he played goalie on the Police Department's hockey team.

The mood Thursday at downtown police headquarters was somber.

Police have been working a new homicide a day since Tuesday. But this one hit home in a way they weren't expecting.

Officers wore black bands wrapped around their badges. Administrators worked through the sad logistics of saying goodbye — who would plan the funeral, who would handle the news conference.

Roberts is the 27th Tampa police officer killed in the line of duty, the 17th of those to die from a fatal shooting.

His picture was placed at the base of the "Roll Call of Honor" memorial outside Tampa police headquarters at 411 N Franklin St., where people left vases of flowers, candles and cards.

Iorio called Roberts' death "a terrible tragedy for the city of Tampa.

"I hope as his son grows up, he will always know his father was a hero."

Times staff writers Kim Wilmath and Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com and (813) 226-3383.

To contribute

Two funds have been set up for donations to the family of Cpl. Mike Roberts. Checks may be made out to the Tampa Police Memorial Fund and mailed to 411 N Franklin St., Tampa, FL 33602. In the memo section, write "Cpl. Mike Roberts Memorial Fund." In addition, account No. 538412 has been set up with Tampa Bay Federal Credit Union. Checks should be payable to Cynthia Roberts or the Tampa Police Memorial Fund. Donations can be made at any credit union in the Tampa Bay area.

Often honored, Tampa Police Cpl. Mike Roberts inspired peers and saved lives 08/20/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 24, 2009 9:25am]
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