TAMPA - It’s become an all too common sight. Officers shot and killed in the line of duty. Ask anyone in law enforcement, and they’ll tell you that it seems to be happening more often.
“When you see not one police officer getting killed, but you see two and three police officers getting killed at one time, more than once, right here in the Bay area, I think we definitely have a more violent society,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee.
While statistics show crime has been on the decline in recent years, tragedies involving officers continue to occur. Nationally, 68 officers have died on the job so far this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Tampa Bay has seen more than its share of law enforcement tragedies, many involving firearms. In the last 30 years, 25 law enforcement officers in the Tampa Bay area have been shot and killed in the line of duty. Nine of those deaths happened in the last five years. Most recently, three St. Petersburg police officers have died this year.
In many recent cases, the suspected killer was a convicted felon who had access to a gun. Hydra Lacy Jr., accused in the February deaths of St. Petersburg officers Jeffrey Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger, had a long criminal past before the shooting. Dontae Morris, who investigators say shot and killed Tampa police officer Jeff Kocab and David Curtis on a traffic stop, was also a convicted felon.
In the wake of these tragedies, local police chiefs and sheriffs have discussed how to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons.
“Almost 80 percent of police officers killed over the course of the last couple years, that were killed by gunfire, were killed by felons. That ought to push us for some heavier legislation,” said Sheriff Gee.
“I would love to see some background requirement required even on a private purchase. I think that would go a long way,” said St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon.
Some are also talking about increasing the penalties for convicted felons in possession of firearms.
“Number one, it would hold these individuals accountable. At the same time, I think it would send a message,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats.
The families of the slain officers also believe something needs to be done. They’ve seen officers die in the line of duty again and again, and they believe there may now be enough political will to make changes to the laws.
“We have to start at the state. That’s where we have to start. We’ve got to get the legislation going. It just seems it’s out of control. So whatever we can do, the general public, whatever we can do, we’ve got to stand behind our law enforcement officers,” said Sandy Kocab, mother of Tampa police officer Jeff Kocab.
On Thursday at 11pm, the ABC Action News I-Team looks at how guns are making there way onto streets and into the hands of convicted felons. We'll tell you what law enforcement is hoping to do to keep you safe and keep guns out of the wrong people's hands.
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