"We have to continue doing the work in their memory": TPAPD officers remember the fallen during National Police Week
Officer Michael Rodriguez is among the many Tampa International Airport Police officers who, throughout their careers, have lost friends in the line of duty.
When Officer Michael Rodriguez first joined the city of New York as a rookie cop in 1989, he knew the risks involved in law enforcement.
At 22 years old, he was assigned to patrol the high-crime housing project areas. He was often alone while on duty, but he still felt a sense of being invincible.
Less than a year into the job, a fellow officer working a drug-fighting operation in the same housing project was gunned down.
“It was the first time it really hit me,” said Officer Rodriguez. “The call came over ‘shots fired, officer down,’ and it was my first awakening of how real this job really is.”
The incident forced him to consider turning in his badge and giving up police work for a safer career. But, after a talk with his parents, Rodriguez realized being a police officer was more than just a paycheck. It was a calling, he said.
More than 30 years later, Rodriguez is still working to protect the public, now as an officer with Tampa International Airport Police. This week, as part of National Police Week, he and officers across the United States are remembering colleagues who were lost.
“It’s a chance for me to remember those that I lost, and especially their families," he said. "Because the families are ultimately the people who pay the price.”
During the early days of his career, Rodriguez quickly became aware of how suddenly tragedy could befall his law enforcement peers, including one of his field-training officers who was killed responding to a bar.
But nothing, he said, would prepare him for the loss experienced on September 11th, 2001, when the NYPD lost 23 officers in a single day.
“I lost many officers during 9/11, and I’m still losing them due to the effects of 9/11,” said Rodriguez.
Among them, NYPD Detective Lou Alverez, who worked alongside Rodriguez in narcotics and died recently of what was classified a 9/11-related cancer.
“The guy was 250 pounds, solid rock of muscle,” recalls Rodriguez. “To see him at 90-something pounds, skin and bones, it tore me apart."
Rodriguez is far from alone. Many officers who work for TPAPD say they’ve lost close friends and coworkers over the years in the line of duty.
“I can recall about 5 individuals that I knew personally that have lost their lives,” said Officer Veronica Hamilton, who spent years working for the Tampa Police Department before joining TPAPD as an Airport officer. “For me, this is a week where we honor those who have sacrificed their lives to protect and serve others.”
“It’s sad, but we have to continue doing the work in their memory,” said Officer Rodriguez. “I am doing a job that not everyone wants to do. This week reminds us all that people appreciate all the good we do.”