Rain didn’t deter participants from attending a ceremony Tuesday morning at Veterans’ Memorial Park in The Villages to honor peace officers who have died in the line of duty.
For more than a decade, members of the memorial park have honored those in law enforcement with special recognition of an annual program paying tribute to fallen officers.
This year’s program, part of a National Law Enforcement Day observance, began under sunny skies. But as local officers were reading the names of all those across the country who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2017, it started to pour.
Volunteers quickly came to the rescue by providing umbrellas for the folks at the lectern and the reading of the names continued without missing a beat.
The special guest speaker was Don Barbee Jr., clerk of the circuit court and comptroller in Hernando County and a former felony prosecutor and FBI special agent. His message was about the families of the fallen officers.
Barbee often speaks at schools and said children always ask if he was ever scared on the job He tells them no.
“I was never afraid for me but thinking what my family would have to go through if something happened to me scared me,” said Barbee. “Those of us in law enforcement – we signed up for this. They didn’t.”
In addition to remembering the fallen officers, Barbee asked audience members to “remember the wives, husbands and kids, what life is like for them as they try to move forward.
“When I think about the families, I think how heroic they are trying to put their lives back together,” he said.
Barbee also asked the audience to remember the number 53. That is the number of officers killed in the United States so far in 2018 – 27 involving gunfire. Florida is tied with Texas with the most officers killed in the line of duty this year at four apiece.
“Fifty-three, remember that number,” Barbee said. “Let’s try to figure out how to stop it.”
Among the audience was a large contingent of the 100-member Villages NYPD 10-13 club. The club for retired NYPD officers meets monthly at SeaBreeze Recreation Center.
“We come out every year to support this program and law enforcement,” said John Patella, a retired New York City police officer with the crime scene unit.