A reminder of the risk inherent in law enforcement jobs, the Florida Sheriffs Association added seven names to its fallen officers’ memorial wall this week. Sheriffs say their efforts—including their self-sacrifice—have contributed to the state’s lowest crime rate in more than 40 years.
Fallen officers’ families came from around the state to the Tallahassee ceremonies, where they received roses in honor of their loved ones. The solemn rituals included a 21-gun salute and taps played on a trumpet.
Seven framed photos were propped up facing the crowd: the faces of a Baker County officer who’d been shot in 1904, another killed in a car accident in 2009, and five who died in the line of duty last year.
After the memorial, one officer’s family was carrying his photo to their car.
I asked, “Do you mind if I talk with you for a moment about whose picture you’re holding?”
A girl with tears in her eyes whispered “I can’t.”
The day proved difficult to handle for many, including State Attorney General Pam Bondi. She shed tears as she hugged uniformed men and women and the wives and children others left behind.
“You are part of a huge family. Look at this beautiful family around you. And you will always be family. And I firmly believe that God put us on this earth to help each other, and that’s why we’re here,” she said.
Florida Sheriffs Association President Grady Judd says one is one too many officers’ lives to lose in a year, pointing out the state has lost three already in 2014. The most recent was a 30-year-old mother, state trooper Chelsea Richard. She was struck by a car May 3 in Ocala as she helped a motorist on the side of the highway.
Judd said, “Crime is at a 43-year low in the state of Florida. But without the men and women who paid the ultimate price, and all the others in the state of Florida that are willing to lay their life down, we couldn’t have that.”
And some criminologists agree with him.
Florida State University professor Daniel Mears says, “I think the question is, does law enforcement have an effect on crime rates? And I think it very clearly does.”
He says he doesn’t know of any studies specifically looking at whether less crime is committed in areas where more law enforcement officers have died. But he says law enforcement efforts are probably the second most influential factor driving down the crime rate, just behind an improving economy.
“Police departments across the country are increasingly using data analysis to guide their efforts,” he says. “Using data analysis is kind of like a flashlight to know where to target your efforts.”
Mears explains, police have gotten better at identifying likely crime hot spots so they can increase their presence there and dissuade more crime from being committed. It’s a trend seen nationally over the past few decades.
Meanwhile, the nation continues to honor officers from every state who responded to a call and never made it back home. National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund spokesman Steve Groeninger says the Florida men’s names will be added to the National Law Enforcement Fallen Officers Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., this coming Tuesday, along with about 275 others.
“Florida often ranks in the top 10 of states who lose the highest number of law enforcement officers,” he says.
Groeninger says families will join together for a candlelight vigil at 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 13. And for those who can’t travel to D.C, a live webcast is available at LawMemorial.org.