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Let’s honor our fallen police officers | Column
There are 23,785 names on the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., a reminder of why we should be grateful to the members of law enforcement in this country who put themselves in harm’s way to keep their communities safe.
 
The photograph of Pinellas Deputy Michael Hartwick was displayed at the Idlewild Baptist Church during his funeral on Oct. 3, 2022, in Lutz. Hartwick died after being struck by a front loader while directing traffic away from road work on Sept. 22.
The photograph of Pinellas Deputy Michael Hartwick was displayed at the Idlewild Baptist Church during his funeral on Oct. 3, 2022, in Lutz. Hartwick died after being struck by a front loader while directing traffic away from road work on Sept. 22. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Published May 13, 2023

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued the first proclamation for Peace Officers Memorial Day and National Police Week to remember and honor law enforcement officers for their service and sacrifices. Peace Officers Memorial Day, which every year falls on May 15, specifically honors law enforcement officers killed or disabled in the line of duty.

Roger B. Handberg
Roger B. Handberg [ 30 JPEG | Handout ]

As the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, I serve as the chief federal law enforcement officer for 35 counties in Florida. During April and May, Law Enforcement Memorials will be held across the district to remember those who paid the highest price by laying down their lives in service to their communities.

Law enforcement is a dangerous profession. The statistics tell us that. Since the first recorded police death in 1786, there have been more than 23,000 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Today, a candlelight vigil will be held on the National Mall to dedicate the names of the 556 law enforcement officers who will be added to the walls of the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C. With those additions, there will be 23,785 names engraved on the memorial.

These statistics are a reminder of why each of us should be grateful to the members of law enforcement in this country who put themselves in harm’s way to keep their communities safe. We owe them a debt of gratitude that we can never fully repay.

And 2022 was another dangerous year for law enforcement. Of the 556 law enforcement officers whose names will be added to the National Memorial, 224 of those officers died in the line of duty in 2022. According to the 2022 statistics reported by the FBI through the Law Enforcement Officer Killed and Assaulted Program as of March 31, 59 of those law enforcement officers were killed as a result of felonious acts, and 58 died due to accidents.

Four of those officers were from the Middle District of Florida:

* Deputy Michael Hartwick, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office;

* Deputy Blane Lee Lane, Polk County Sheriff’s Office;

* Officer James McWhorter, Florida Department of Agriculture;

* Deputy Christopher Taylor, Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

For each of these officers, law enforcement was not an ordinary job, but it was a calling. It was something they did, because they were dedicated to protecting and serving the people in the communities where they lived.

Through the Law Enforcement Memorials being held across the Middle District of Florida, we get the chance to show that we will never forget the sacrifices made by those four officers and every law enforcement officer who has died in the line of duty. It also gives us an opportunity to express our gratitude for the love, support, and sacrifice of the families who stood by all of those officers during their time of service and who are committed to continuing their legacies.

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I hope that you will take a moment to show your gratitude and to thank the members of law enforcement who serve your community for everything that they do to keep us safe by attending one of the Law Enforcement Memorials in your community.

Roger B. Handberg is the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida.