HERNANDO COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – Many local police departments are mourning the death of several officers in the Tampa Bay Area to COVID-19. The most recent deputy who has passed was part of the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. His name is Tommy Breedlove and he was only 54 years old.
According to the Fraternal Order of Police, 622 officers have died from COVID-19 across the country, with 56 of those being right here in Florida. The Hernando County Sheriff, Al Nienhuis, says although a number like that is heartbreaking, police officers don’t get a break and have to continue working to help the community.READ MORE: Investigation After A Deputy-Involved Crash Happened In Dunedin
“It does weigh. When it hits in your agency, it hits very close to home, particularly someone who has been here for many years,” says Sheriff Nienhuis.
For the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, 54-year-old, Tommy Breedlove, was more than just an officer.
“He was also a family man. He has seven children. He went to a church here in Hernando County and was involved in teaching Sunday school,” said Sheriff Nienhuis.
Breedlove died from COVID-19 Saturday night.
“It was a tough weekend. I have to admit, I even felt pretty dark over the weekend because he was a good man and filling his shoes is going to be difficult,” said Sheriff Nienhuis.
Two officers, one with the St. Petersburg Police Department and another with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office died from COVID-19 within the last week.READ MORE: Attorneys Rush To Block Demolition Of Arrive Perimeter Apt. Building Following Explosion
“There are a lot of long faces but unfortunately we have to deal with very difficult issues all of the time and we aren’t allowed to shut down. The whole agency can’t take funeral leave,” said Sheriff Nienhuis.
Sheriff Nienhuis says along with mental health professionals and chaplains available to the department, officers are also willing to help each other while they grieve.
“We deal with the worst of the worst, so we are very quick to jump in to help someone, especially in times like this,” said Sheriff Nienhuis.
USF Psychiatry Associate Professor, Ryan Wagoner, says seeing officers like Breedlove lose their lives to COVID-19 is difficult for officers and members of the community.
“Sadness for the officers themselves. The police and service professionals and things are there to help us. Suddenly whenever you see them falling from COVID-19, of course that’s going to have an emotional impact,” said Wagoner.
He says he knows officers may need to consider seeing a therapist if they begin showing signs of depression or anxiety. But a very important part of grieving is talking to those who are closest to you.
“Staying in close contact with family and friends, with coworkers, being able to talk about things and process stuff,” said Wagoner.MORE NEWS: Check Your Tickets, Pronto: $432M Winning Mega Millions Ticket Sold At Manhattan Pizza Shop
Many police departments across the area are urging everyone, including law enforcement to get vaccinated. According to the Fraternal Order of Police, Texas has the highest number of officers who have died from COVID-19, at 143. Florida comes right behind it and ties with California at 56.