Hundreds of police officers from throughout the state gathered in the Capitol courtyard in Tallahassee Monday to honor the memories of 13 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in 2011.
Gov. Rick Scott and other top state officials attended the 90-minute ceremony, held under a brilliant North Florida sun as the flags above the historic Old Capitol flew at half staff. In his prepared remarks, the governor said the selfless and courageous work of Florida law enforcement officers is one of the reason violent crime in the state is at a 41-year low.
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster was a featured speaker at the ceremony. Three St. Petersburg officers lost their lives in the line of duty last year: Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and officers Jeffrey Yaslowitz and David Crawford.
"My prayer is to never be invited back here as speaker," Foster said. He described as "my personal 9/11" the telephone call he got from Police Chief Chuck Harmon last Jan. 24, after Baitinger and Yaslowitz were shot to death when they knocked on the door at the home of a suspected fugitive.
The names of all 13 killed officers were read aloud by Kenny Mack, state secretary of the Fraternal Order of Police. Their names will be added to the bronze fallen officers' memorial outside the Old Capitol. As a group of deputies played Taps and Amazing Grace on bagpipes, three police helicopters flew over the Capitol complex in formation.
Scott later met privately with family members of the slain officers. He attended all of their funerals and said he has gotten to know some family members. He mentioned the 12-year-old daughter of Gregory Malloy, a slain correctional officer.
"It's no different than when I met with Trayvon Martin's parents," Scott said. "You just cant imagine the tragedy of these things and how it changes their whole lives. Your heart goes out to them."
Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam attended, along with four legislators: Sen. Greg Evers of Crestview and Reps. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, Shawn Harrison of Tampa and Scott Plakon of Longwood.
-- Steve Bousquet