Our Fallen Heroes and Public Safety

Honor Bell

This article is raw and unedited. I wanted to get my emotions out while they are still fresh.

This week was an emotional one for me. As the Mayor of Tampa, no greater responsibility is that of public safety. And that safety is inclusive of our citizens and our public servants. Tuesday, the city held it’s memorial ceremony for our fallen police officers at Gaslight Park in downtown. Then on Wednesday, our city honored all the first responders at Our Heroes Luncheon. If you’ve never gone, I highly recommend it. The first one is a somber reminder of the committment our public servants make, the second is equally emotional, but ends on an inspirational high as we recognize some of Tampa’s brightest young minds as they receive scholarships to college.

The Memorial Ceremony for Our Fallen Police Officers

Fallen Heroes Monument
Fallen Heroes Monument

In front of the Police Headquarters in downtown Tampa sets the Tampa Police Memorial. It honors all Police Officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. In their quest for public safety, they made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s easy to walk by and not take a second glance. But the next time you’re there. Slow down. Stop and look to the sides. You’ll see the names of our fallen traced back to the late 1800’s. To honor each of these men and women each year we ring a bell. One ring after every name called out on the loud speaker.

Honor Bell
The Bell to Honor our Heroes

As I stood there, silent, and listening to the names, the year they lost their life, and the ringing of a bell immediately afterward, I couldn’t help but to think about what that ringing of the bell represented. It rang for the son’s and daughter’s that won’t have a father or mother to see them graduate. It rang for the single mom or dad that had to carry on without their spouse. It rang for the mother’s and father’s who had to bury their child and feel the injustice of outliving their child. It rang for their sacrifice. It rang for our cities committment to keep our streets safe.

In between me looking into the audience and wondering what each story the crying families had to share, and listening to the ringing of the bell, there came a point where I just wanted it to stop. I would listen to the year someone had died, and then waited to hear the next name, hoping a decade or more would pass. My throat ached. My eyes swelled. And my heart mourned for those who were affected.

Our Heroes Luncheon

Our Heroes Luncheon
Honoring our Heroes

This event honors all the first responders who have lost their lives throughout Tampa. This time, the bell rings for each department that lost a first responder. The same chilling emotion overtakes me. Every department comes to the stage, stands shoulder to shoulder, and places their departments helmet or hat on a pedestal, and they remain there throughout the entire event. It’s a stark reminder of the cost of public safety.

Photo Credit: MP Studios, Michael McCoy
John H. Sykes after the luncheon

But this event is not just a way to honor our fallen through remembrance. It’s a way to honor them by ensuring we prepare our next generation to take care of our city when they become adults. And this happens though the generous philanthropy of one of Tampa’s most caring citizens, John H. Sykes. To dates, he has donated nearly $1 million dollars in scholarships to outstanding children of parents that service this city.

This part of the luncheon gives us hope as young high school graduates come to the stage and announce what college they’ve chosen and what they hope to major in. And the most humbling part is when they announce their high school GPA (Grade Point Average). There wasn’t a kid on the stage who had less than a 4.0 and the majority were boasting GPAs of 5, 6, and one even had a 7+ GPA which I never knew was possible.

Photo Credit: Michael McCoy, MP Studios
One of the students receiving her college scholarship from John H. Sykes

My 2 Big Takeaways

It’s so easy to watch the news and see the video phone coverage of an arrest gone wrong – a moment in time, without any context of what happened before or after – and make a snap assessment of how much better the situation could be handled. Yes, some of those videos are without reason or excuse, and need no further context because what happened was categorically unjust and a blatant disregard for public safety, but they reflect a small percentage of bad actors who are in a place of power. Many times, without the context of what is happening, our judgements are as poor as the outcome we are watching on the video. Unless we go to work everyday and kiss the one’s we love goodbye wondering if today will be the day we don’t come home, there is no way to predict how we would behave if we were in that situation.

Second, it was a sobering reminder for the awesome responsibility the Mayor of this city holds. While the police fight for public safety, the Mayor must make sure everything is in place to keep our police, fire, and rescue as safe as possible. This means the finest training and equipment we can provide. From de-escalation training, to unconscious bias training, to cross training between city and county to make sure when first responders get on the scene they are properly trained on how to use the equipment from the other departments. As the Mayor of this city, I will make sure that when each of these brave men and women kiss their loved one’s goodbye as they go to work, they know their Mayor has their back.

Our Heroes Luncheon Photo Credits: MP Studios Tampa, Michael McCoy