Watch: Fla. law enforcement officials condemn violence against police officers

"We recognize the dangers that are involved, but you don’t go in expecting someone to try to beat you to death," Sheriff T.K. Waters said

By Sarah Roebuck

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Throughout the past few months, there has been an uptick in violence against officers in the Jacksonville area. 

Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters, neighboring sheriffs Robert Hardwick, Scotty Rhoden and Bill Leeper, along with Mayor Lenny Curry and Mayor-Elect Donna Deegan, State Attorney Melissa Nelson, and other local leaders and law enforcement officials, took time to address the ongoing violence. 

"Since I took office in November 2022 there has been three officers that have been shot in our community, one was brutally beaten, and one in October just before I took office," Waters said.

“I think it is important for people to understand that it’s not as easy as you think it is. We have officers out here that are doing things and putting their lives in jeopardy, and we all signed up for it. I’m never going to say we didn’t,” Waters continued. “We recognize the dangers that are involved, but you don’t go in expecting someone to try to beat you to death. You don’t go expecting someone to take a shot at you. So my job is to raise awareness, to talk to our media, to talk to our community and say, ‘Let’s cut it out and let’s move forward.’”

When State Attorney Nelson took the podium, she denounced the violence against officers, acknowledging that it might not make officers safer but educating the public about the alarming trend is important. 

Quoting an FBI report, Nelson said the hatred of police was the reason for almost a third of attacks on law enforcement officers. Minutes later, St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick stepped up to the podium to talk about the most recent law enforcement death: Sgt. Michael Kunovich. Kunovich was attempting to arrest a resisting suspect for nearly seven minutes. Once the suspect was disarmed and arrested, Kunovich collapsed and died from a heart attack.

“As the body camera footage will show you, it was legal, by the book, doing his job to the best of his abilities, and all the suspect had to do was comply,” Hardwick said. “Instead the suspect chose to try to remove a knife from his left side pocket and the struggle was on with Sgt. Kunovich until the next deputy showed up 37 seconds later. Ultimately, the sergeant succumbed basically to some medical issues that actually were induced by the struggle with our subject.”

When FBI Special Agent in Charge Sherri Onks spoke, she said 118 law enforcement members were killed nationwide in 2022. Hardwick added that since he took over as sheriff just over two years ago, there have been 389 assaults and batteries against his deputies.

"While we recognize the inherent dangers of work in law enforcement, we choose to put our lives on the line each day. But police officers are also human beings, a fact often forgotten in our public discourse. We are people. People with families and friends. People with hopes, dreams and fears. People who want to do our work to the best of our ability. And people who just like you, want to come home at the end of the night," Waters said.

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