LARGO — Compared with last year, there were more white tents offering shade from the mid-morning sun. This time, there were so many cars expected, orange traffic cones were used as part of an organized parking plan.
This time, there were two widows present.
This time, there were three young children without a father.
This time, there were a mother and father without a son.
The 24th annual Pinellas County Law Enforcement Memorial Service, held today outside the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office, was bigger this year, more teary-eyed.
That’s because this year, three more names were being added to the small granite monument around which the annual service is held – those of K-9 officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz and Sgt. Tom Baitinger, killed in a stand-off with a fugitive on Jan. 24; and that of Officer Dave Crawford, who investigators say was fatally shot by a 16-year-old car burglar on Feb. 21.
All three were St. Petersburg police officers.
The last time an officer was killed in the county was in 1993, when Belleair police officer Jeffery Tackett was killed while trying to handcuff a burglary suspect. In St. Petersburg, the respite between casualties goes back even further – to Aug. 18, 1980, when Herb Sullivan was killed during an undercover drug operation.
But even while dignitaries sang the officers’ praises and thanked the law enforcement community in general, some wondered if enough was being done to help people remember the three officers’ sacrifice.
An hour and a half before the memorial service at the sheriff’s office, a smaller, less grandiose ceremony was held farther south, in the breezeway outside the St. Petersburg Police Department.
A black cloth with the ‘thin blue line’ emblazoned across it was lifted to show the three officers’ names were also added to a plaque that typically hangs on the wall in the station’s lobby. The plaque was dwarfed by a statute of a dog behind it, to memorialize city police dogs who have passed away, albeit not in the line of duty.
Afterward, Mayor Bill Foster said he would like to see something more substantial than a plaque – possibly a piece of art – at the entrance of a yet-to-be built police station, which would be built across the street from the current one.
Recently, the city council approved buying property for the station for $1 million, but the construction of the station is expected to cost roughly $50 million, and is years away.
“It would be fitting to have a permanent memorial there at the entrance of the new police station,” Foster said. Police Chief Chuck Harmon also said Wednesday that he believes any new memorial should be integrated into the design of the new police station.
But a non-profit group dubbed “Heroes of the St. Pete Police” is also interested in a more substantial memorial, and the group has already received permission from the city to erect it at Demens Landing Park, which sits across town on the city’s picturesque waterfront.
The group has raised $35,000 and has a goal of $150,000, said Rep. Rick Kriseman D-St. Petersburg, who is active in the group. That would cover the cost of the monument and 10 years of maintenance.
Foster said he hopes that whatever monument “Heroes of the St. Pete Police” comes up with, its “final resting place” would be at the new police station. Perhaps it could be moved to the new police station once the police station is finished, he suggested.
“That would be very difficult,” Kriseman said when told of Foster’s remarks. The group will be conducting a design competition through the city’s public arts commission, he said, and “when artists are doing their design, it’s specifically designed for the site where the art work is going to be going.”
“I know some have talked about putting it at the police station,” Kriseman said. “We thought there was a greater opportunity to see it and appreciate it if it were in a public park.”
Kriseman said Demens Landing Park was selected before news surfaced that a new police station would be built across the street from the current one. There are ideas floating about that would tie the new station in with the memorial at the park, but the specifics have not been flushed out yet.
Still, by all accounts, family and friends of the slain officers were grateful for the ceremonies today .
“It’s huge,” Lorraine Yaslowitz, Jeffrey Yaslowitz’s widow, said afterwards. “It’s really great to see his name memorialized and that he will forever be remembered for what he did.”