The door of the Allstate Center opens promptly at 7:45 a.m. Recruits in shined boots process out of the building and towards a centrally located, well known flag pole in the center of the parking lot.
With laser precision, they take their place around the pole.
“Present colors!” shouts the leader of the senior class.
Three recruits walk silently behind the rest. The first in line carries a perfectly folded American flag. The next in line carries the Florida state flag. All eyes gaze towards the sky as the flags are run up the pole.
“It’s a privilege to be here,” said junior recruit Elliot Lightfoot. “It’s a privilege to follow in the footsteps of the people who came before me.”
The recruits say the pledge of allegiance and turn again to face the section leader who anxiously unfolds a sheet of paper.
On it is the name of an officer who never made it home.
“It does hit home a little bit knowing that could be me someday too,” said Daniel Jewett, a recruit who is following in the footsteps of his mom, dad, sister-in-law and brother into law enforcement. “That flag and what it represents allows us to do what we do every day so that means a great deal to all of us here.”
Ricquel Cooper feels the same way. She, too, has chosen the career path of a family member -- despite the dangers -- because she wants to make a difference.
“Someone has to do it and I feel for myself, what better person to do it than me?” she asks. “I grieve for those families because I know it could happen to us any day. Really it’s just saddening.”
The recruits will graduate in December. Many of the two dozen have already been hired by Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies.
When the first day of work comes, the names they heard around the flag pole while in training will be etched in their minds.
“I think it just fuels the fire,” said Corey Lostraglio, who watched his dad serve the community while growing up. “Half of me feels sadness for their families and for their agencies but the other half of me gives me that drive to really want to do this job and do this job for them and for the other people who could be next.”
According to a national database, 81 police officers have died in the line of duty around the nation in 2016.