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When police officers die, the funeral must attend to many

ST. PETERSBURG — There will be horses and police dogs and caravans of squad cars. A dove release, a fly over and a 21-gun salute.

Two grieving families. And strangers, thousands of strangers.

The funeral today for two slain St. Petersburg police officers will be a carefully coordinated union of private sorrow and public ceremony.

That is how police funerals tend to work. Families and colleagues get to pay tribute and a reeling community does, too.

It's why the memorial service for officers Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz and Thomas J. Baitinger will be held at the First Baptist Church on Gandy Boulevard, a location chosen not for its personal significance, but for its size.

It's why the Tampa Police Department sent two funeral commanders across the bay to help with logistics.

It's why about 300 people gathered at the church Thursday morning to rehearse each detail of the service.

"St. Petersburg hasn't had to do this recently," Tampa police Lt. Ruben Delgado said. But "they have truly stepped up and taken care of their two guys."

The community outpouring during a personal nightmare still moves one police widow to tears 13 years later.

Detectives Ricky Childers and Randy Bell received their final police honors at the Tampa Convention Center. It wasn't a typical place of worship, but the atmosphere was appropriately somber, Vickie Childers-Metzler said. She didn't even notice the media cameras.

Her lasting memory is of the spectators who stood along the procession route to pay respects.

"That was one of the most uplifting things for me," she said. "It's a very proud moment because they realize what you sacrificed."

Law enforcement takes pains to ensure family wishes are not lost in the public nature of the event. Pastors from the officers' home churches typically participate.

When two officers are honored with a single service, extra care is taken to fulfill the expectations of both families, Delgado said.

Last year, he helped coordinate the joint funeral for Tampa police officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab at Idlewild Baptist Church. The widows agreed on the location and other major decisions, Delgado said. Then police made individual accommodations, such as giving one family time to pray the rosary.

"Both families realize the magnitude of a loss like this to the agency," he said. "They realized that their two husbands died together, and they were going to be properly honored by us."

St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz said the widows of Yaslowitz and Baitinger were consulted on the funeral setting, music and speakers.

"I think they were involved with virtually everything," Puetz said. "It's for them. The other part of this is for the extended law enforcement family. But at the end of the day, it's their decision."

Times staff writer Jamal Thalji and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

When police officers die, the funeral must attend to many 01/27/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 2:22pm]
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