Specialty license plate students designed has legislators' attention
PINELLAS PARK - Christy Sullivan beamed with pride as she watched her daughter speak to a room full of reporters and politicians Wednesday afternoon, but she couldn't help but feel a little nervous. Her daughter, Pinellas Park High School junior Lauren Lofton, is spearheading a class project to create a specialty license plate to honor law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty — the first in the state. The project has caught the attention of legislators, who want to make it a reality during this year's legislative session, and has reminded Sullivan of the dangers associated with her daughter's chosen career. "Everyone in our family but me is in law enforcement, and it's a double-edged sword," she said. "There's such a feeling of pride knowing your family is out there making a difference, but you also want them to come home safe and sound." The 130 students in the school's Criminal Justice Academy Class of 2014 consider all law enforcement officers to be "heroes, like soldiers," said junior Jonaleah Carrow."Officers every day are risking their lives to save ours," she said. "It's one of the scariest jobs to have, but it's so important. We just had to do something to give back." That's the idea behind their class project, called Operation 10-24, begun in 2011 after three police officers in the St. Petersburg Police Department were killed on duty. Students in social studies teacher Richard Cross' class do a fallen officer project every year, but the freshman class was hit hard by the deaths of the three officers. After thinking of ways they could express their feelings, Cross came up with the license plate idea. Each student submitted and voted on a design and spent the past two years trying to make the plate a reality. They have the support of state Sen. Jack Latvala and state Rep. Dwight Dudley, who are sponsoring bills to make the students' idea a reality. Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, said he's confident that can happen, despite a moratorium on new plates for 2014 and legislators' reluctance to add more. The plates would cost $25 a year, and the nonprofit Police and Kid's Foundation would dispense the money. Educational efforts such as high school programs for students interested in law enforcement or scholarships for the police academy would receive 30 percent of the money, and 70 percent would go to equipment and safety training for officers across the state. The plate features two police badges, one from St. Petersburg and one from the state, with a black-and-blue ribbon along the edges. On the bottom is a phrase students couldn't get out of their heads. They first heard it when Cross showed them a tape of Polk County deputy Matt Williams' funeral in 2006, and it has become a mantra. "A man remembered never dies."