By REID TUCKER
Britton Hill, in northern Walton County, was the state site of the Summit for Heroes ceremony, which annually honors America’s law enforcement professionals killed in the line of duty.
Law Enforcement officers around the country climbed to their states’ highest points on Saturday, June 30, to pay respects to their slain comrades, and Florida was no different, even if its highest point is only 345 feet above sea level. Located at Lakewood Park just east of Paxton, Britton Hill is the lowest high point of any state, but that did not make the yearly event any less moving for the 30 or so people in attendance.
Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson presided over this year’s ceremony, with the remainder of the crowd composed of a contingent of local law enforcement officers, the friends and family of slain officers from around the state, and visitors to the park.
“What ultimately separates the men and women of this profession from any other profession is that willingness to advance toward harm’s way when others run the other direction, not because they have to but because they want to, led by their desire to help their fellow man,” Adkinson said in a brief address. “The Bible tells us that there is no greater love than that of him who lays down his life for his brother. Today, in all 50 states, at the highest point of that state, as close as we can come to the good Lord on this earth, we stand in unison to recognize and honor and provide solidarity for the men and women of law enforcement and their families.”
Connie Barker, president of the Northwest Florida chapter of the Concerns Of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), which offers rehabilitative assistance to more than 190 surviving family members of law enforcement officers in 13 Panhandle counties, was also on hand at the memorial observance. For Barker, the Summit for Heroes carries a special, if painful memory as her son, Clint Walker, died in 2004 when he was accidentally shot by another police officer. She said the yearly memorial ceremony never becomes any easier as the years go by, but that she will always appreciate the effort to pay respects to the sacrifices her son and others made for their country and communities.
“It helps to know that other people remember our loved ones and honor them for what they did,” Barker said. “They gave their lives to help others, so we appreciate it when the community comes together to help us remember too.”
Approximately 750 law enforcement professionals and their friends, families and supporters participate in the national Summit for Heroes program each year.
Six officers were killed in Florida since last year’s Summit for Heroes memorial. Deputy Sheriff John Charles Meckleberg of the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (died July 3, 2011, vehicle pursuit), police officer Arnulfo Crispin of the Lakeland Police Department (died Dec. 21, 2011, gunfire), and Deputy Sheriff Matthew Jay Miller of the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office (died Dec. 26, 2011, motorcycle accident) died in the latter part of 2011. Detective David White of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office (died Feb. 16, 2012, gunfire), Deputy Sheriff Barbara Pill of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office (died March 6, 2012, gunfire), and Sgt. Ruben Howard Thomas, III of the Florida Department of Corrections (died March 18, 2012, stabbing) were all killed in the first half of 2012.