ORLANDO – It’s not a record that any state wants to have and, as Cindy Williams noted, Florida had the sad distinction last year of ranking first in the nation for the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
‘’We miss them every day,’’ Williams said.
But since May is Peace Officers Memorial Month, it’s an appropriate time, Williams said, to take time to remember those courageous law enforcement officers no longer protecting the community because of their tragic deaths.
‘’Today is a time of quiet reflections for those who gave their lives in the line of duty,’’ said Williams, a major with the Florida Highway Patrol. ‘’Many officers look at May with heavy hearts.’’
On Tuesday, Orlando honored those fallen officers through the annual Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony, held at the Orlando Veterans Administration Medical Center. Officers of all ranks, from the Orlando Police Department and the Florida Highway Patrol, gathered at the VA Medical Center’s auditorium to pay tribute to those colleagues no longer with us.
‘’We’re here today to honor law enforcement agencies from all over the nation who have fallen in the line of duty,’’ said Becky Bierbrodt of the Orlando VA Police Administration, who served as the master of ceremonies for this ceremony.
The Winter Park High School Color Guard performed the Parade of Colors, as Orlando VA Police Chief Stephen J. Sabol led the audience through the Pledge of Allegiance, then reminded those attending the ceremony how important it was to remember those ”who have sacrificed their lives while serving and protecting our community.’’
Why do they take on such a potentially dangerous task, he asked. ”It’s the fear of the unknown and the desire to protect our community that prompts us to take on this job,’’ Sabol said. ”They will be remembered for their courage.’’
Williams, who served as the keynote speaker, has been a member of the Florida highway Patrol since 1986. In 2009, she was promoted to major and was appointed as the Troop Commander of Troop D, which covers Orange, Osceola, Lake, Brevard, Seminole and Volusia counties.
”It is an honor to be here today for this law enforcement ceremony,’’ Williams said, because it was also an honor, she said, to take time to remember her late colleagues.
”These men and women care for the community as if they were their own family,’’ she said.
Law enforcement officers often go beyond the call of duty to help people – acts of kindness that never get reported in the local media, Williams said.
”Many times we don’t know these selfless acts until an officer has fallen in the line of duty,’’ she added. ”Today is a day for us to remember them. A strong law enforcement presence shows a community that we matter. These ceremonies show that we need law enforcement every day.’’
Because this is a field, she said, where men and women are given one of the greatest responsibilities: to protect and serve.
”It is characterized by sacrifice from the day you put on that badge,’’ she said. ‘’I know the time I spend doing my job every day, as well as my brothers and sisters in law enforcement. We do make a difference.’’
Timothy Liezert, the VA Medical Center’s director, noted that his agency serves veterans who come there for badly needed care and treatment.
”To deliver that mission, we have to provide an environment that is safe,’’ he said. ”Likewise, in the community, if we live in fear, we cannot be productive citizens. It’s really time to recommit to what it means to be safe, and protect and serve.’’
At one time, he said, the Orlando VA Medical Center police were not armed. When the center changed that policy, the decision attracted some controversy, Liezert said. But he defended that decision.
”We must, too, include identifying threats that might hinder our mission,’’ he said. ”Our police force is trained and very well prepared to handle these threats.’’