Connecting with a fallen officer was one of Lauren Lofton’s first big projects in the Criminal Justice Academy at Pinellas Park High School. She recalls watching a tape of the funeral of Polk County Deputy Matt Williams, who died in an ambush in 2006.
Said Polk sheriff’s Detective Mike Evans at the service: “A man remembered never dies.”
In that spirit, Lofton and her classmates in the Criminal Justice Academy have designed a specialty license plate to honor officers who have died in the line of duty. Their quest, supported by their teacher Richard Cross, started two years ago around the time three St. Petersburg Police officers lost their lives. With the help of local legislators, they hope the plates will provide funds to help make officers safer.
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and state Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, have filed related bills, Senate Bill 712 and House Bill 911, which will commit proceeds from the tags to benefit the nonprofit Police and Kids Foundation Inc.
Politicians come up with many ideas, Sen. Latvala said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“Sometimes the best ideas come from everyday folks,” he said.
“Lauren’s not waiting to lead,” Rep. Dudley said. “She’s doing it now.”
Seventy percent of the funds from the tag fee will go toward training and equipment to keep officers safer and 30 percent will go toward education, including programs like the Criminal Justice Academy.
Lorraine Yaslowitz, whose husband St. Petersburg Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz was killed in January 2011, also spoke at the conference. She said she was impressed by Lauren and her classmates’ efforts.
“I’m touched,” Mrs. Yaslowitz said. “It honors our family.”
Cross said he hopes the students’ efforts will empower their peers.
Making the plates a reality won’t be easy. There’s a moratorium on specialty plates. Additionally, Sen. Latvala said many legislators are reluctant to okay more specialty tags because there are so many of them and funds for some specialty tags have not been handled properly. The students will hear a lot of excuses, he said.
“But I encourage you to persist,” Latvala said.
Lauren and her classmates are determined.
“We’re going to make one. We don’t care what it takes,” said Lauren, a 16-year-old junior whose father is a detective for the St. Petersburg Police Department. “It’s going to happen.”