Gainesville Police honored the sacrifice and service of fallen police officers today on Peace Officers Memorial Day.
The holiday, which is part of Police Week, pays tribute to the local, state and federal peace officers who have died, or who have been disabled, in the line of duty.
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation that designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week. The day has also been recently authorized and designated by President Donald Trump, according to a White House Press release.
“GPD officers are happy that there is a day set aside to remember our fallen,” GPD spokesperson Officer Ben Tobias said in an email. “Just a few weeks ago, local law enforcement was rocked at the murder of the two Gilchrist County deputies. That sting hasn’t gone away yet.”
Since GPD was founded in the early 1900s, four officers have died in the line of duty. They are Officer Jackson Bennett, Officer Shannon Stephenson, Officer Scott Baird and Lt. Corey Dahlem.
Officer Jackson Bennett served with the GPD for one year. He passed after being bitten by a rabid dog while on patrol in April 1936, according to the GPD website.When he was diagnosed it was too late to be treated.
Officer Shannon Stephenson served GPD for five years. He was shot and killed after responding to reports of officers who were under fire in June 1980, according to the GPD website.
Officer Scott Baird was responding to a batting cage obstructing a roadway in the early morning hours in February 2001, according to the GPD website. While waiting for assistance, a vehicle hit the batting cage causing the cage to strike Officer Baird, resulting in his death. He served GPD for two years.
Lt. Corey Dahlem served GPD for 22 years. He was struck and killed during a foot patrol by a drunk driver during the celebration of UF’s basketball team championship win in April 2007, according to the GPD website.
Officers are not the only members of the force to have fallen in the line of duty. A local K-9 and police horse were also killed while protecting Gainesville’s residents .
K-9 officer Gero was shot and killed after trying to apprehend an armed burglary suspect who opened fire on officers in January 1986. More recently, police horse Coffee, a.k.a Romper’s Chosen Copy, was struck by a vehicle on a special holiday detail in November 2000.
“We all understand that death on duty is a risk that we take, so this day is a somber reminder that it has become a reality for some of us,” Tobias said in an email.
Peace Officers Memorial Day isn’t only to be recognized by police departments, but also by the residents of the communities they serve.
“The community can participate in a number of ways, but most important to us is just a thank you or a smile,” Tobias said in an email. “We see the worst of society at times at work, and it’s refreshing to know that the public trust us and is behind us.”