Last Friday, students and Lakeland community members decked out in shades of blue in commemoration of National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.

According to the Lakeland Ledger, more than 50 people dressed in blue and waving American flags rallied in the old Kmart parking lot on Cypress Gardens Boulevard.

Members of the criminology club of Florida Southern College met at the Lakeland Police Department Headquarters in Downtown Lakeland with with Professor Gillen, who often works with LPD and formerly worked in Public Affairs. They meet newly appointed Lakeland Chief of Police Larry Giddens.

Giddens was named Chief of Police after temporarily talking over the position for 11 months. After seeing his work, the Lakeland Police Department and City Manager Doug Thomas decided the veteran officer was the best choice to take on the job permanently.

“Law Enforcement Appreciation Day is definitely important because police officers and other first responders do a lot for the community and it’s a pretty thankless job” Zack Zimmer a senior criminology major and soon to be Military Police Officer said. “[They are] definitely overworked and underpaid. So it’s important to take some time out of our day to rally together and show that their deeds do not go unnoticed and unappreciated. Especially with the harsh scrutiny going on recently involving the police, it is important to show community support. I support law enforcement because I believe it is the right thing to do, because everyone can blame the police when things go wrong but they can’t bring themselves to imagine a community without a police force.”

Samuel Goncalves, a senior criminology major in attendance of the event said; “It is very important because it is a day where we can actually interact with the police department on a more personal level and we get to thank them and show our support for bringing safety to Lakeland. I support LPD and every other police department because they keep us safe, they risk their lives for us to be able to freely walk on the street and go about our day without concerns, even more now with all the recent media against the police this past month.”

It has been particularly hard for law enforcement officers in recent months, as stigma and negativity has been associated with their call to protect and serve. The holiday, which was started by the FBI National Academy, was observed to thank officers across the country who take risks to protect their communities and families.

“I believe that some people are not looking straight at the facts and just guiding themselves by emotions,” Goncalves said. “I know that not every police officer is good or that they haven’t made mistakes but judging all officers for the mistakes of a few is just irrational and unnecessary.”

This holiday comes just in time, in light of so much negativity for police.

“Every situation differs,” Zimmer said. “Every situation that a cop runs into requires something a little different and no two cops are exactly the same. Some situations do require force and at times, that can mean lethal force, which is unfortunate but can be necessary. Some other situations may just need a cop to be calm, collected, and listen to what a suspect has to stay… I think that police officers always need to be cautious when they are both on and off duty. A police officer is always under a microscope. I’ll finish with saying that a police officer is trained for all manner of things and no two arrests or situations are exactly the same. We as a community need to have the trust that our police officers will make the right decisions and if they don’t, that there will be in-house or criminal repercussions. Unfortunately, mistakes will happen but we can’t get caught up in that, especially before the mistakes happen.”

The Department of Homeland Security reports every day 780,000 police officers put on a badge nationwide, going to work in the most unknown extreme conditions and dangers. Last Friday was a day to thank them for their service.


Photo courtesy Zack Zimmer