Local agencies honor fallen officers

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. - Four local law enforcement agencies honored the men and women who died in the line of duty while protecting the public in two separate services Tuesday.

A memorial service was held in St. Johns County on Tuesday morning, as well as another combined service for the Nassau County Sheriff's Office, Fernandina Beach Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol.

Twenty-eight-year-old Charles Parks (pictured below), who worked as a Florida state trooper, was shot and killed while apprehending two robbery suspects in 1973. Even though he died along Interstate 95 about 40 years ago, his service to the public will be at the forefront during Tuesday's ceremony.

"We should never forget," Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said. "These officers have paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect the citizens of Florida, and we want to make sure they are recognized and never forgotten and let their families know we are still thankful for what they've done. And it's very important to do that."

Leeper said members of Parks' family are expected to attend the memorial service. Parks is the sixth law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty in Nassau County since 1891.

"It takes a special person to be a police officer," Leeper said. "Not everybody can be or wants to be, but those who do, it's a public service they do every day. Without them we would have chaos."

Many have died at the hands of criminals, but far too often law enforcement officers lose their lives in accidents on the roads. Leeper pointed out that officers also have more distractions than ever before inside their vehicles.

Tuesday's memorial was also a reminder to keep safety at the top of their minds at all times.

"It's also important for officers to know the job is dangerous and we don't want you to be recognized like this every year," Leeper said.

There have been 762 law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty in Florida. Among them also being remembered Tuesday were Fernandina Beach Police Chief James Surrency and Nassau County Sheriff's Office Chief Lewis Hailey.

Meanwhile, in St. Johns County, Sheriff David Shoar, local and state officials, current and retired sheriffs, the family of the late Sheriff Neil J. Perry, and the men and women of the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office dedicated the St. Johns County Criminal Complex in memory of Perry (pictured, below).

"The legacy that Neil left today is taking care of his people, taking care of our citizens, and perpetuating outstanding law enforcement," Sheriff David Shoar said. "So we are proud to be here today. We are proud to remember Neil today, and we are certainly proud to dedicate this complex in his memory."

Perry was first elected sheriff in 1984. He retired in 2004 after being re-elected four times. Perry died last year.

Last year, the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners passed and adopted a resolution recognizing the complex as the "Neil J. Perry Criminal Justice Complex" in memory of Perry and his extensive and successful law enforcement career.The dedication Tuesday was part of the annual law enforcement memorial service in which the 13 who gave their lives in the line of duty over the years were also honored.

"To those of us in the profession, every day is Police Memorial Day," Shoar said. "But you know, in the past several years there has been more and more deaths of police officers. We are all aware of that. It is good for all of us to remember who is out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week making sure our communities are safe."

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