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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared this week as Florida First Responder Appreciation Week.

The announcement came after the murder of two Florida police officers — Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles Kondek and Leon County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Smith — were killed last month.

Anti-police sentiment has become a prominent issue following the killings of young black men by white police officers across the U.S. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have sparked protests nationwide.

In a statement regarding the designation, Scott encouraged “all Floridians to take time out of their day to show first responders and their families how much we value their service.”

Scott also urged Floridians to pray for the protection and safety of first responders, saying “each loss of a law enforcement officer is heartbreaking and losing two heroes in less than a month is a cry for peace.”

Both Gainesville Police and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office expressed gratitude toward Scott for the announcement.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Art Forgey said the agency is happy that Scott is doing “something positive for law enforcement.”

“The public sentiment towards law enforcement — not so much all first responders but especially towards law enforcement — has been very negative lately,” Forgey said.

In recent months, police brutality and corrupt officers have been focal points of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Forgey said the agency does acknowledge the fact that corrupt officers do exist within law enforcement. 

But, he said, a few corrupt police officers don’t represent all of law enforcement, in the same way that a few extreme protesters don’t represent all protestors.

When asked if he thinks anti-police sentiment is high in Alachua, Forgey said he doesn’t believe it is, crediting the progressive mindset and young population in the county.

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“I believe people are well-educated enough to realize there are bad (people) in every dynamic and every group… (but) there are also good (people),” he said.

Both Forgey and GPD spokesman Ben Tobias said the agencies have been more cautious than usual.

GPD officers, while still being extra cautious, are thankful they can rely on each other as well as support from the community, Tobias said.

“As police officers in general, we’re always watching our backs and always watching out for each other,” Tobias said.  “But if cops keep getting killed very close to home, it makes us watch our backs that much more.”

[A version of this story ran on page 4 on 1/7/2015 under the headline "Scott designates week for first responders"]

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