It seems inconceivable. After three decades without losing a police officer in the line of duty, St. Petersburg has seen three officers shot and killed within a month. Another routine encounter has dissolved into gunfire, and once again a police department and a community are grieving.
Officer David Crawford, 46, spent more than half his life working for the St. Petersburg Police Department and could have retired this year. He preferred the midnight shift, calmed people in tense situations and offered compassion for victims of domestic violence. He loved horses and was among the first to suggest to Chief Chuck Harmon that the city create a mounted patrol unit.
Crawford was investigating a report of a prowler about 10:30 p.m. Monday when he encountered a young man near Eighth Street and Third Avenue S. Police say there was an exchange of gunfire, and Crawford was killed. A large-scale hunt for his killer led to the closings of three nearby schools, a door-to-door search south of Tropicana Field and a significant reward offered for information. Harmon and Mayor Bill Foster remained calm and composed at a news conference Tuesday afternoon where they praised the outpouring of community support and honored Crawford for his service to the city. Their leadership will continue to be important in setting a measured tone for a city still coming to grips with the last police shooting.
Police Sgt. Tom Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz were killed on Jan. 24 when a task force tried to serve an arrest warrant for felon Hydra Lacy Jr., who was hiding in an attic. Lacy also was killed in the shootout, and the investigations into that incident have not been released. Memorials to Baitinger and Yaslowitz in police headquarters are now joined by a memorial to Crawford.
"How does the city get through this?" Foster asked, repeating a familiar question. "There's no single answer."
First, the police force and the community should take comfort in the outpouring of support from state leaders, the Tampa Bay region and law enforcement agencies from throughout the area. Second, St. Petersburg residents should remember the crime rate has declined and the city remains safer than it was in other eras. And third, we should remind ourselves that one man — not an entire neighborhood that suffers from more than its share of crime — is responsible for this indefensible act.
Crawford was not wearing a bulletproof vest; St. Petersburg policy requires officers to carry them but leaves it to their discretion about when to wear one. There will be time to review that policy, just as police procedures will be re-examined when the investigations are completed from last month's police shootings. As we continue to mourn the loss of Tom Baitinger and Jeffrey Yaslowitz, let us honor the sacrifice of David Crawford.