Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
As the casket of Trooper Joseph Bullock was carried past me Feb. 13 and entered Bayside Community Church in Lakewood Ranch, I continued to snap photos despite the overwhelming sadness that engulfed me.
Bullock, who was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop Feb. 5 near Palm City, was not local to our area. He was a 19-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol who served entirely in the Fort Pierce District.
However, his burial was at the Sarasota National Cemetery and Bayside offered a huge auditorium that seats 4,000 people. Every bit of that space was needed during the funeral service. Florida Highway Patrol officials were effusive with their praise of Bayside for providing every service possible during a trying time.
As a journalist, you try to keep your emotions in check when you cover traumatic events. You want to capture the participants' emotions without your own getting in the way. Doing the job pushes you forward, but being human, it can be a losing battle.
I looked through the camera into the faces of those in agony. Thoughts raced through my mind.
Here are a few.
... How does any law enforcement officer approach a vehicle without pulling his/her gun? I know many of us are irritated when an officer approaches us and the caution is apparent. We might think, 'How could he/she possibly think I am a threat?' The shooting of Bullock provided more evidence there is no such thing as a routine traffic stop.
... I gain more respect for law enforcement officers who offer a smile and who are ultra polite. How do you keep such a positive attitude when you are doing such a dirty job? I know much of the work involves serving the community, and that comes with self-satisfaction and rewards, but the criminal element is always there, and that's got to be a lot to bear.
... We should be grateful we have those who would do such a job. Sure, it might be more dangerous to work on an oil rig or in a mine, but nobody intentionally tries to do your harm. I remembered back to a time when a guy approached me in a bar and said, "You look like a cop, I hate cops." I would imagine there are those who hate journalists, too, but it's not in the same universe as wearing a police uniform. I would not want to do police work. Thanks so much to those who do.
... If you are a student in the Florida Law Enforcement Academy at Manatee Technical College, do you reconsider your career choice? I know they've all seen the violence on TV and in the movies, but when you see that procession of hundreds of law enforcement vehicles accompanying the body of a trooper killed in the line of duty, doesn't that give you pause? This is real.
... In looking at members of the Florida Highway Patrol honor guard, I see men and women who volunteer to be present in the face of extreme tragedy. It has to take a special quality to handle such a job.
... I thought of Bob Mealy, a captain for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. Mealy was shot in the wrist in 2014 by an armed bank robber. If that bullet went six inches or so in a different direction, we might have held a similar ceremony for him. How many other law enforcement officers have had similar incidents. Probably way more than we know.
... Bullet proof vests help, but not enough. Criminals and those who mean to do harm to law enforcement officers know they all wear vests now.
... At 42, Bullock had so much to offer his community and his family. It is such a waste.
... As I watched Trooper Joseph Bullock's parents, Jon and Val Bullock of Englewood, enter Bayside Community Church for the service, I thought about my own son and my family. The thought of your son or daughter being a victim of such a crime is unimaginable.
... Lt. Derrick Rahming, one of Bullock's former partners made me think of my own best friends. Rahming said of Bullock, "He was a leader and a friend. We miss you Joe."
... We all, most likely, have some memory of a law enforcement officer going above and beyond to help us during a difficult situation. Bullock carried his own jack in the car to help motorists and he sometimes would pay for someone's gas or for them to get a hotel room. Why does this befall such a man?
... I thought about the next time, because there always is a next time. Bullock was the 49th Florida Highway Patrol officer killed in the line of duty. Are we doing what we can to make sure those next times become rare?