Saturday, June 23, 2018
Public safety

St. Petersburg to unveil monument honoring fallen police officers this weekend

ST. PETERSBURG — Five years ago, the police chief and mayor stood on a strip of land at Demens Landing and stuck a shovel in the dirt.

They vowed that one day, there would be a permanent monument at the park to honor the city's police officers who died in the line of duty.

There were 12 of them at the time. There are 15 now.

On Saturday, all will be recognized as the public gets its first look at the long-awaited memorial. The police chief and mayor will be there. Gov. Rick Scott has been invited to the ceremony in the downtown park as well.

"I'm excited for this," said Dave DeKay, assistant police chief. "People want to support us, but sometimes they don't know how."

The memorial, DeKay said, gives the community a permanent and public place to reflect.

A fence remains around the monument right now. When it is unveiled, people will see three main components: a 7-foot-tall piece of black granite that has a silhouette of an officer cut out of it; a large aluminum panel with the names of the officers scattered randomly on both sides; and a 25-foot flag pole. There also will be benches and a lighted walkway with pavers people can buy and personalize.

Heroes of the St. Pete Police, a nonprofit formed to help officers and their families in times of need, has talked of doing a memorial for nine years. Although the names of fallen officers hang on a plaque in the police station, the city has not had a public monument.

There was a renewed push for one after the city lost three officers a year ago.

"2011 was a motivating year for the community to make something happen," said architect Andrew Hayes, who joined the Heroes board after the deaths of K-9 Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and Officer David Crawford in January and February 2011.

Up to about a year ago, the organization intended to have the memorial be a public arts project. But it decided to change tactics when a couple of things became clear, DeKay said.

In order for it to be a public arts project, DeKay said, the group would have had to raise all the money needed up front. Artists would then be able to bid on the project. Officials were trying to raise about $150,000.

But when board members approached potential donors, many had the same question: What would the monument look like?

"Without something to look at, it's hard to raise money," Hayes said.

So Hayes and his team put some of their own ideas and concepts into a mock-up design that could be used on pamphlets.

"The board fell in love with it," DeKay said. "We thought, why not just go with this?"

With Hayes' donated design and other private contributions, the group was able to move forward and get the memorial built for about $85,000.

As a result, the memorial is already paid for. The nonprofit is donating the monument and the first 10 years of maintenance to the city.

"This is really rewarding," said board member Kyle Nelson, who has spent the past several months tracking down families of the officers. Many of them still live in the Tampa Bay area, but some are flying here from other states. "I think it ought to be a fairly moving and emotional service."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected].

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