Tampa will pause this morning to honor and bury police Cpl. Mike Roberts, the city's 17th officer shot and killed in the line of duty. By all accounts, the 38-year-old military veteran was an exemplary officer who was committed to the safety of his community. His service is a reminder of the courage we expect from our police officers, but also the price they may ultimately pay in protecting us. The sacrifice of Roberts and his family should not pass without our gratitude.
Roberts, at the moment of his death, epitomized the community-style policing that Tampa Chief Stephen Hogue has credited with helping lower Tampa's crime rate. For five years, Hogue has emphasized that he wants his officers to be pro-active on the street, not sitting in cars writing reports and awaiting a dispatcher's call.
That's exactly what Roberts did Wednesday as he drove down Nebraska Avenue in hardscrabble Sulphur Springs in the dark of night. Seeing a suspicious-looking man pushing a full shopping cart just before 10 p.m., he radioed to dispatch that he was going to contact the man. Minutes later, despite the bulletproof vest he wore, Roberts was fatally wounded, allegedly by one of four guns that suspect Humberto Delgado Jr. had stashed in the cart.
Roberts made the decision to approach Delgado because of his training and his commitment to the community. Roberts' record suggests he was never an officer to dial it in. During his 11 years on the force, he earned 33 commendations, including one for being among a team of officers who saved a suicidal man's life. He spent five years as a member of the K-9 unit, a job that requires significant off-duty commitment to caring for police dogs. Roberts was promoted to corporal last month. "We only promote our best, and he was clearly one of Tampa Police Department's best," Hogue said last week. And Wednesday, with a wife and 3-year-old son waiting for him to come back home, Roberts did his job again.
It's not known if Roberts ultimately may have prevented more violence. Authorities have not disclosed, if they know, why Delgado was transporting the weapons cache, including an assault rife. But Roberts lost his life because he was willing, on behalf of his community, to leave the security of his police cruiser on a warm summer night to ask. Such courage and commitment we honor and remember.