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Law enforcement community honors three St. Petersburg officers killed this year

Three names. Two lists. One tragic winter.

On Wednesday morning, the names of three local police officers were unveiled at two solemn memorials.

Family, friends and fellow law enforcement officers honored the three St. Petersburg police officers who died in the line of duty this year at back-to-back ceremonies at the St. Petersburg Police Department and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

K-9 Officer Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz.

Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger.

Officer David S. Crawford.

At both gatherings, their names were read aloud. In all, 23 officers from various agencies have died in the county while on duty since 1905. Of all local agencies, St. Petersburg has mourned the most losses with 15.

The officers' deaths marked the first time in 18 years an officer from any agency in Pinellas had died in the line of duty.

Wednesday's were the first memorial ceremonies to take place since the three officers died in a span of 28 days this year. Yaslowitz and Baitinger were killed Jan. 24 by a fugitive hiding in an attic. Crawford died on Feb. 21 while questioning a teenage prowling suspect, police said.

At St. Petersburg police headquarters, Chief Churck Harmon said the memorial in the building's lobby will act as a tribute to three men he considered friends.

"As you pass through this door each day I ask that you take a look (to the) right and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice," Harmon said. "May God rest their souls."

There is just one slot left on the memorial plaque, but plans are under way in the city to erect a permanent police memorial for the fallen. Mayor Bill Foster told the crowd that he hopes they never have to fill that last slot.

"This is about Baitinger, Yaslowitz and Crawford," Foster said. "But it is also about the St. Petersburg Police Department. And it is my ultimate prayer that we never have to do this again."

It has been a difficult year for law enforcement nationwide, Sheriff's Office Maj. Wayne Morris said at the start of the county ceremony in Largo. In all, 26 officers were killed in the line of duty during the first four months of 2011, he said.

It was the 24th year the Sheriff's Office has hosted a fallen officer's ceremony. But it was the loss of the three St. Petersburg officers that made the day more powerful, and more poignant, than recent years.

"They will be honored this day and forever," Morris said. "Their place among our fallen heroes is secure."

The roughly 40-minute ceremony included speeches by Harmon, Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Coats addressed family members of Yaslowitz and Crawford, acknowledging that Baitinger's wife was unable to attend.

"Life is so uncertain," Coats said. "We cannot replace what you have lost, but you will always have your law enforcement family with you for support and comfort."

Bondi expressed her thanks to all of the men and women who risk their lives each time they put on their uniform and head out on their shift.

"We are safer today because of the sacrifices your loved ones made," she told the families.

Harmon thanked all the local agencies on hand for the ceremony, noting they were the same agencies that came out to help search for Crawford's killer and supported St. Petersburg officers during the funerals.

A moment of silence ended with the tradition of the 21-gun salute. Yaslowitz's two youngest children, sitting with their mother and their older brother in the front row of spectators, covered their ears as the shots rang out.

Afterward, Yaslowitz's wife, Lorraine, said the observance was bittersweet.

Asked how her husband would have felt about the ceremonies, she smiled.

"He wouldn't like any of it. He doesn't like attention," she said. "But I think he's honored."

Lorraine Yaslowitz wore a bracelet on her wrist with photos of her husband and his canine companion, Ace. She tries not to wear it too much because she doesn't want it to get scratched, she said.

But she finds peace in his image.

"It is comforting. I look at the face. That's my baby," she said.

Lorraine Yaslowitz said something else brings her comfort, too.

Her husband died doing what he loved, being a cop.

Rays to retire radio call-signs of officers

The Tampa Bay Rays will retire three special numbers before Friday night's game against the Orioles: K-2, S-23 and 143-Bravo. Those are the radio call-signs of St. Petersburg Officers Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz (K-2), Thomas J. Baitinger (S-23) and David S. Crawford (143-Bravo), who all died in the line of duty this year. The Rays will honor them at a pregame ceremony before the 7:10 p.m. game. Their radio call-signs will be permanently displayed inside Tropicana Field by the right field wall. Members of the Yaslowitz and Crawford families are set to attend the unveiling. Yaslowitz's oldest son, Caleb, is also set to throw out the first pitch.

Law enforcement community honors three St. Petersburg officers killed this year 05/11/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 12, 2011 10:31am]
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