ORLANDO — Standing in a room filled with fellow law enforcement officers, Orlando Police Chief Val B. Demings said she knows what it means to be a hero.
It’s the courage to take on extremely dangerous situations combined with the full understanding that what they do protects the people around them, she said. And while not everyone has the fortitude to go into a field as challenging as this, Demings said those who do clearly demonstrate a remarkable dedication to their community, neighbors, even to total strangers they want to protect and serve.
“It would be easy to sit back. But today I thank God for those who answer the call to protect our communities and keep our neighborhoods safe,” Demings said, during a ceremony on Friday at the Orlando VA Medical Center in honor of National Police Week. The ceremony was held in part to honor those who have fallen in the line of duty.
Sadly, there have been far too many to honor: Florida leads the nation with more law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty than any other state.
Chaplain Doug Weadick, who provided the invocation at the start of the ceremony, noted that “There are several police officers prayers listed online, and it looks like the list is getting longer.”
So what gives one individual the fortitude, strength of character and dedication to become a community hero?
“Have you ever taken the time to really think about it?” Demings asked. “Well, we know that they are flesh and blood, certainly, but if you take a closer look you will see they are so much more. Their bravery is unshakable when they stand between the innocent and danger.”
Orlando’s acting police chief, Stephen Sabol, said one characteristic that he sees in each officer is the willingness to stand up to trouble and not back down when other lives are threatened.
“You may put yourself in danger 1,000 times,” he said.
It isn’t just police officers who fall into this category; those serving their community as fire fighters, Emergency Management response teams, corrections officers at local and state institutions, and members of the Armed Services also put their lives at risk every day.
Dexter Miller, co-host of The Freeline Media Hour, served in Vietnam between 1964 and 1967. He said there are usually three characteristics found in those willing to assume a leadership role in high risk situations and fields.
“A sense of patriotism,” he said, “a sense of doing the right thing toward your fellow man, and contributing to the greater good.”
Miller said during his service in the Navy, the ones who were the most successful clearly demonstrated these traits multiple times.
“They were always the people who had the can-do attitude,” he said. “Also, people in that position do very well if they feel like they don’t have any personal way out — it’s the only thing they have left to do to avoid complete chaos. There’s always people looking to find ways to save themselves or change their way of life. That’s a part of the spirit that founded this country.”
David Raith, a contributor to Freeline Media Orlando who served in the Marines, said it’s easy to find genuine heroes in the Armed Services.
“Anybody that’s willing to put their lives at risk to protect others is a hero in my book,” he said. “Anybody that enlisted in the military during Operation Iraqui Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and the war on global terrorism was pretty much a hero. You know you’re enlisting with the strong potential of being sent to a combat zone. If you’re willing to potentially lose your life to defend our freedoms, then obviously you’re a hero.”
As for the characteristics of a hero, Raith said they include “a can-do attitude, I would say — you can do whatever you need to do to affect a positive outcome. Obviously, bravery. Selflessness. Courage. And a want or ability to help others.”
Allen Moore, public information officer for the Orange County Jail, said corrections officers are often unsung heroes, part of a field that rarely gets recognition for the work they do.
He noted they have a challenging job monitoring the safety of the inmates they supervise, and protecting fellow employees in a very tough work environment.
“I can tell you that corrections officers work in an environment that could turn dangerous at anytime,” he said. “Jails like ours that emphasize strategic management under sound correctional practices and policies — with an emphasis on sound communications practices and advanced training — can minimize the danger but never completely eliminate it. Corrections officers work in a high-risk profession which requires many advanced skill-sets in order to safely perform their public duties.”
That’s particularly true at local jails, he said, since many of the inmates have not yet been convicted of a crime, and are being held until they get a court hearing. Those inmates, who may be innocent, need to be protected when they’re in close contact with others put into a cell because they committed violent offenses.
“In most counties, the correctional officers are actually detention deputies who work as part of the local sheriff’s offices,” Moore said. “In Orange, Osceola, Volusia and Miami-Dade counties, the jails are not affiliated with the sheriff’s offices and operate independently — the primary purpose being the care, custody, control, and humane treatment of inmates who are brought to them by law enforcement agencies until they either are released on bail, or their case is adjudicated by the courts. Roughly 66 percent of most jails’ inmate populations are not yet convicted of the crimes of which they are accused. That makes jails particularly different from prisons, where all of the inmate populations are convicted and serving long-term sentences for their crimes.”
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