ST. PETERSBURG — Police officers, first responders and a long line of civilians crammed into Billy Hume’s 440-square-foot barber shop Saturday waiting for a trim.
They came to carry on a tradition that began three years ago, just months after St. Petersburg police Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz were gunned down in a standoff.
Hume didn’t know the officers personally, but he felt moved to help their families, so he set aside a day to give away 100 percent of his proceeds. Cuts for Cops has brought in many thousands of dollars since.
Police families say the hundreds of haircuts and other donations pull in more than a much larger golf tournament fundraiser, but many of the people who crowd this small parking lot at 2032 Fourth Street N. see it as more than chipping in for a good cause.
“As a wife and a mom, this is what makes it easier for me to send my husband to work, for my kids to see how the community supports them,” said Dawn Peters, whose husband is a St. Petersburg police SWAT team member.
Peters hadn’t met the officers who died on Jan. 24, 2011, or their families, but she has become close friends with Yaslowitz’s widow, Lorraine, whose children are about the same age as hers.
She helps Hume and his son, Bill Hume Jr., with the annual event and says it often is more successful than events she helps puts together for larger organizations.
For Hume, it was a long-standing friendship with another police officer – and loyal customer – that drove him to reach out.
Motorcycle patrolman Chris Dort had been friends with the barber for more than a decade after the two discovered they hailed from the same part of Massachusetts.
One day when Dort came in for a haircut, Hume could see the effect of the officers’ deaths on his friend’s face. And the St. Petersburg barber was struck by a broadcast of their memorial service.
“The funeral was on TV and that really, really touched my son and I – that’s when we decided we wanted to do something,” Hume said.
Dort says the first Cuts for Cops gave the community a chance to process the shocking tragedy.
“I think on the tail end of our guys getting killed, it was a great opportunity for the community and the officers to come out and speak and sort of heal together. It was phenomenal,” Dort said.
The event has grown every year, but still feels like a family gathering or small block party.
On Saturday, officers stood by showing children an armored SWAT vehicle and letting them climb into a Humvee and wave at cars whizzing by on Fourth Street.
Vendors served pizza, beer and snacks.
Former Mayor Bill Foster and even newly-elected Rep. David Jolly stopped by, though the congressman didn’t need a haircut.
Most of the officers wore T-shirts and jeans or shorts rather than uniforms.
Hume says it’s a chance for many people to see law enforcement officials outside those unnerving moments when there’s an emergency or when blue-red lights appear in their rearview mirrors.
“Now you see them in a different light out here in the parking lot with their families and you see their wives and their children and you pick up a whole different vibe about what law enforcement is about,” Hume said.
For Peters, seeing everyone come out to support the officers and their families offers a measure of reassurance.
“You really do lose a lot of the fear, because you see how it really is worth it,” she said.
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