Friday, December 15, 2017
Public safety

One year later, St. Pete remembers Officer David Crawford

ST. PETERSBURG

It was a scene that, sadly, the city has become accustomed to: The American flag flying at half staff. The officers standing at attention. The honor guard slowly saluting in unison.

Then at 10:37 p.m. — the moment the "officer down" call went out on police radios a year ago this very night — a dispatcher asked for silence.

The city marked the first anniversary of one of its worst moments on Tuesday night: the death of St. Petersburg police Officer David S. Crawford, who was shot and killed in the line of duty.

"It's nice that he's remembered," said his daughter, Amanda Crawford, 25. "But it's hard. It's kind of like the funeral all over again."

She wore a red T-shirt with a photo of her as a little girl, standing next to her father. His badge hung around her neck.

Her father loved horses, dogs and cats. Her dream is to become a veterinarian, to become "Dr. Crawford" and make him proud.

"I think closure will come when the trial is done," she said. "It's a constant reminder, but a good reminder. Because I know everyone misses him as much as I do, especially his squad."

• • •

More than 250 officers, police employees and family members attended Tuesday night's ceremony, which was held in the breezeway of the police building at 1300 First Ave. N. Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council attended.

Crawford was ambushed, according to police, while trying to question a teenager at the southwest corner of Eighth Street and Second Avenue S.

Donna Crawford, the officer's widow, attended the ceremony but declined to comment afterward. Amanda Crawford attended with her mother, Lori Phillips, who was Crawford's first wife.

Crawford's widow and daughter each received a white rose and hugs from police Chief Chuck Harmon and the mayor.

It was the second such anniversary observed in recent weeks. The city lost three officers in 2011. The first anniversary of the deaths of K-9 Officer Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz and Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger was marked on Jan. 24. They died 28 days before Crawford.

Harmon said that the year that has passed since Crawford's death has brought no peace, no finality. The chief agreed with Crawford's daughter that those kinds of feelings can only come in a court of law.

The teen accused of killing Crawford is set to go on trial on March 19.

"There's not the sense of closure that there was with the first anniversary," Harmon said. "This one was just as emotional, just as meaningful. But there's more to it than just the year anniversary. There's going to be a trial and all the emotions and testimony and bringing out the facts about it.

"It just doesn't feel as final as with Tom or Jeff. This is just a step in the process."

• • •

Crawford spent 25 years on the force, most of them on the midnight shift. His squad was like a family, a group of officers who bonded over the challenges of working while the city slept. He could be a gruff mentor for the younger officers but had an understanding ear for victims of domestic violence.

Then on Feb. 21, 2011, Crawford responded to a report of a car thief prowling downtown. He spotted the subject, parked his cruiser and got out to ask questions.

That's when the suspect whipped around and shot Crawford repeatedly with a semiautomatic pistol, police said. The suspect then ran.

Officers rushed to the scene. Police quickly launched the largest manhunt in city history.

Crawford, who was not wearing a bullet-resistant vest, later died at Bayfront Medical Center. He was 46.

The search ended 24 hours later when detectives brought in 16-year-old Nicholas Lindsey. His confession was video-recorded, police said, and in December a judge ruled that it can be used at his trial. Lindsey is now 17 and if convicted faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But that's still to come. During his remarks, the mayor recounted his conversation with Donna Crawford.

"She said, 'You know what mayor, tonight it's just about David,' " Foster said. "It's our opportunity to remember and reflect on what a tremendous man, husband, father and officer he was.

"So tonight we reflect, we remember, and we're grateful to the men and women of this department."

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