ORLANDO — Timothy W. Liezert began working for the Veterans Administration more than two decades ago, in Ohio. It was his first job, and he’s unlikely to ever forget the tragedy surrounding his first few weeks there.
“My career started at the Cleveland VA in 1987,” he said. “I started right after two police officers were killed in the line of duty at the Cleveland VA.”
On that night, three officers responded to a simple call: angry person in building 6. They arrived at the center, unaware of the explosive situation they were walking into.
“The threat turned out to be a man with a gun,” Lierzert said. “This was at a time when the VA police was unarmed.”
The man brandishing the weapon shot at all three officers, killing two and disabling a third.
“That left an indelible mark on my career,” Liezert said. “We must do everything we can to prevent it from happening again.”
Today, Liezert is the director of the VA Medical Center in Orlando, which on Friday held a ceremony in Auditorium B in honor of National Police Week, paying tribute to VA police officers and police officers everywhere, including those who have died in the line of duty.
It was a tribute not only to those officers and their families, but also to heroism — the willingness to stand up to danger in order to protect the rest of society. That includes making the general public feel safe, whether they’re walking the streets of this city, or are in a public building like the VA Medical Center.
“Surely we cannot carry out our mission without our employees and veterans feeling safe in our workplace,” Liezert said. “It’s a critical mission and we must re-dedicate ourselves to it.”
Seven veteran police officers have lost their lives in Orlando since 1985, said Orlando Police Chief Val B. Demings, the keynote speaker at the ceremony. It’s the reason why National Police Week reflects on those murdered in the line of duty, the chief said.
“Last week, I heard a story about a hero,” she said. “He had a common name and traveled in common places. He worked long hours and you know what else he did — he brought peace and calm. You may not know him by name, but I guarantee you know him. You see, he is a police officer.
“I come today,” Demings added, “to celebrate their lives and all that they stood for and lived for.”
As Demings noted, this is a very dangerous, high risk job.
“Florida currently leads the nation with more law enforcement killed in the line of duty than any other state — more than Texas, more than California, more than New York,” she said. “We honor those today who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Throughout their careers, law enforcement officers have pledged to protect and defend the people they serve, she said — the greatest honor matched to the highest calling.
“Please note that what they stood for — honor, integrity, and service — and what they represented — bravery, commitment and dedication –can never be destroyed or ever die,” Demings said.
Liezert said that today, VA police are not only trained to respond to a dangerous situation, but also to ensure that violence is prevented before it escalates.
“Where we spend is on prevention — what does it mean to prevent something from happening,” Liezert said. “Ninety-nine percent of all workforce violence is predictable. We may take a 10 pound hammer to a flea, but we’re going to make sure this place is safe. So let us recommit ourselves to making sure this place is safe.”
Acting Police Chief Stepehn J. Sabol Jr. encourged the people in the audience to recognize anyone in the room who works in law enforcement, to directly show their appreciation for what they do.
“I would ask everyone to join me in recognizing all law enforcement in the audience,” he said. “We owe a lasting debt to all of them.”
Becky Bierbrodt, police administrative staff for the VA Medical Center, said it was also important to recognize what local law enforcement has accomplished by reducing crime in this city.
“Chief Demings has ensured the city of Orlando remains safe and is a place we can be proud of,” Bierbrodt said.
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