We are here today to recognize and honor the sacrifice of the 26 officers of the Tampa Police Department who have lost their lives in service to the City of Tampa. The first officer to die in the line of duty was Officer John McCormick, who was killed September 25, 1895 right here on Franklin Street. And the last was Detective Juan Serrano who died on February 25, 2006.
This year we are placing two additional names on our memorial from Tampa’s past. These officers served communities that were not within Tampa’s city limits at the time of their deaths, but were later annexed by Tampa. Patrolman Juan Nales, age 25, City of West Tampa Police Department, was shot & killed in the line of duty, while arresting a suspicious person on July 18, 1920, leaving behind a 13 month-old daughter and pregnant wife. West Tampa was annexed into the city of Tampa in 1925. Also, City of Port Tampa Town Marshal, Joseph S. Walker, age 54, was shot and killed on September 15, 1915, when he approached an armed suspect who had been involved in a domestic dispute and was making threats in the neighborhood. Marshal Walker had served the Port Tampa community 16 years before his death. We are pleased and honored to have family members from both the Walker & Nales families with us here today to share in this ceremony and the adding their love ones to this memorial.
The 28 police officers who have given their lives have been male, female, African American, Hispanic, Caucasian, young and old. They have died as the result of felonious assaults, traffic accidents, and a helicopter crash. But regardless the cause, at the moment they were taken from us, they all had one thing in common; they were fulfilling their call to duty. And there in lies the simplicity and the gravity of being a police officer. You report for duty each day and perform those tasks that amount to the service and protection of our community, never knowing which task may call for the ultimate sacrifice.
We must never forget those who have honorably served this department and as a result are gone from us today. This is why the Annual Police Memorial Service is so important to each member of our department. Yet, as important as this time is, it does not take a special ceremony in May for all of the fallen officers’ family and friends to remember the loved ones who have been lost. Each of us here at the Tampa Police Department recognizes the tremendous sacrifice that the survivors of these fallen officers have made. I hope that each of you will take some comfort in knowing while we can never imagine the depth of your personal pain, the memories of your loved ones will forever live on here at the Tampa Police Department. Each day we give our honor and pay our respect as we pass by the Police Memorial. No matter the number of times we walk by that memorial it is always recognized for what it symbolizes, true dedication and sacrifice. Those names are etched forever, not only in granite, but also in our hearts and minds.
Some of the officers whose names are engraved on our monument were before our time. Others were our friends and co-workers and we had the honor to spend time together & work beside them. Regardless of the years that have past or the individual circumstances of their death we all feel a tremendous debt of gratitude for their service and ultimately each of their sacrifices.
Their deaths are a chilling reminder of the danger each officer faces each day they report to work. You never know where or when you may face a threat. It could come while arresting an armed suspect, responding to a routine call or even driving home. Death can come suddenly and unexpectedly. You never know the time and place and that is why I urge you to always stay vigilant and not to allow complacency to put you at risk. Officer safety must be paramount in all your operations and in your daily routine.
Our memorial service highlights how quickly an officer can lose their life. Every police officer whose name is on our memorial reported for duty not realizing that it was their last day. But maybe their sacrifice affords us the opportunity to take a little time to reflect, re-evaluate, and strengthen our own personal relationships with family and friends. To help us appreciate those relationships and fully realize how fragile life can be.
The past and present officers and civilians of the Tampa Police Department are honored to have worn the same uniform and served the same community as the officers whose names are etched on our police memorial. They are gone from us today, but their lives and service will never be forgotten.