Thousands gather to honor fallen Fla. police officer
Officer Paul Dunn, who died in an on-duty motorcycle crash last week, was remembered for his infectious smile and dedication to his family
Kathy Leigh Berkowitz
LAKELAND, Fla. — There were thousands of chuckles and tears shed inside the massive sanctuary of Lakes Church during the memorial service Wednesday for Paul Dunn, the Lakeland police officer who died in an on-duty motorcycle crash last week.
Law enforcement agencies from around the state, in addition to thousands of police motorcade officers, joined the community in celebrating Dunn's life and accomplishments. He died at age 50.
Lakeland Police Department Sgt. Jason Perez admitted to the badges before him, most wiping away tears as they encouraged one another, that his first exchange with Dunn was interesting.
"We exchanged profanities," he said, smiling as he described how the two grew to form the bond so cherished between officers. "We talked about our families, dreams and hopes."
He continued how Dunn's "infectious smile turned a hardened soldier into a tattooed teddy bear."
Another friend who spoke was Ross Addeo of the Ocoee Police Department, who said Dunn's time with that agency, only two years, seemed a lot longer than that.
The two went to the gym every day before work and visited Starbucks as often as possible for coffee, he said.
Addeo said he and Dunn shared many loves, including guns and Harley-Davidson bikes.
He said Dunn "truly did put his loved ones and friends in front of himself," adding that he loved his wife, his two stepdaughters, and his daughter and two sons.
Weeping as he shared, Addeo said, "Paul, you are as close as a brother as I will ever get ... you will never be replaced, you will never be forgotten."
LPD Chief Ruben Garcia described Dunn as "a cop's cop, a good Marine."
"He was a good man in tough times," he said.
Dunn and his wife, Laura, a detective at Lakeland Police Department, had dated for several years and had only been married about two months before the tragedy on January 9. For unknown reasons, Dunn, a motorcycle patrol officer, crashed on his department Harley en route to work early that morning.
LPD Senior Chaplain John Ingrassia encouraged the grieving officers, family and friends, noting that "Death was not a final statement for Paul."
Officers like to be the fixers of things, because that is what they do, he said, adding that they don't like it when they can't "fix" something, in this case, the death of their friend.
Ingrassia quoted the Bible scripture, Isaiah 40:31 (KJV), "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary, and they shall walk, and not faint," noting that Dunn wasn't "hopeless" — "Paul knew he was a child of God."
Also presenting spiritual encouragement was the Rev. Lee Lallance, Lakeland Police Chaplain, who equated Dunn's life to that of a tapestry.
"Not everything was always light, easy, fun and pleasant," he said, adding that one of the brightest threads of Dunn's life was his family. The reverend said that one day, Laura was listening to him talk about what a hard day at work it had been.
And Laura, Lallance said, then asked Dunn to name one positive thing that happened.
"I came home to you," he replied.
Dunn was put to rest with full police honors in a ceremony that included the Lakeland Police Honor Guard and a multi-agency bagpipe corps. The U.S. Honor Flag, which travels to as many law enforcement funerals as possible, was sent to the ceremony, as well.
Law enforcement agencies from across Florida packed the Lakes Church sanctuary, which holds nearly 3,000, to the ceiling. That didn't include the hundreds who were outside the building and in the overflow of the church.
Every Polk County police chief was in attendance, lined side by side in the front row, near Dunn's family.
In a media briefing prior to the memorial service, a close friend and co-worker, Lt. Douglas Brown, told reporters that if there was one word that could describe Dunn, it would be "servant."
Dunn often took kids and others in the community under his wing to teach them many things about motorcycles, and even taught some how to ride. He served in the Lakeland Police Department Traffic Motor Unit and had participated in numerous competitions with the unit.
Law enforcement motorcycle groups also gathered to join the funeral procession after the memorial service.
A 21-gun salute and a military flyover took place outside the church after the service.
A quote on the bottom of the memorial program noted, "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."
Dunn leaves behind his wife, Laura, sons Geoffrey and Adam, daughter Amy, step-daughters Caitlan and McKenzie, and a brother, Charles.
Dunn had served with the Lakeland Police Department since 2013. A 20-year law enforcement veteran, he also served with the Ocoee Police Department and Polk County Sheriff's Office.
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