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Missing letter mars long-awaited honor

An unfortunate error will result in new certificates being issued.

By CRISTINA SILVA
Published July 15, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - When Freddie Lee Crawford heard that he and 11 other former St. Petersburg police officers were finally going to be honored, he donned his best suit, rounded up his grandchildren and prepared for the night of his life.

Nearly 42 years earlier, Crawford and 11 fellow African-American police officers sued the city for the right to do their job. At the time, the officers were not allowed to arrest white criminals and could only patrol black neighborhoods.

The lawsuit, the first in the nation under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, paved the way for racial equality for future generations of black officers and set a precedent for other work discrimination cases.

So at a ceremony in June to honor the black patrolmen, Crawford was expecting to be made proud.

He smiled when St. Petersburg police Chief Charles Harmon presented the officers with a commemorative police patch and a certificate explaining its significance, later showing it off to his family and friends.

His 7-year-old grandson was the only one to catch the typo:

"The patch features an American eagle which represents the courage of our police officers ..." the certificate reads. It "reminds the officers that they are currently in the pubic eye."

That's right. Someone left out the "L" in "public."

"It is sort of ironic to get this certificate after all this time," said Crawford, who now lives in Miami. "Probably some secretary is going to get chewed out over it."

The misspelled word is not a big deal, the honored officers agree, but they wouldn't mind a new certificate. After putting themselves on the line and summoning up the guts to stand up to their bosses, it is the least the Police Department can do for them, they said.

"It would be appropriate, but it is up to them," said Leon Jackson, one of the officers. "I'm not upset over it, because I know it wasn't intentional."

Robert Keys, another plaintiff, hadn't even noticed the error until a reporter pointed it out to him.

"Oh, I see now, it says pubic eye," he said. "Well, I hadn't paid attention to that. I showed it to all my friends and family. No one noticed."

The certificates were bestowed to the officers, most of whom are now retired, after a recent Neighborhood Times article detailed the patrolmen's struggle against the city's discriminatory policy during the civil rights era.

Harmon said the typo was an accident. Police patches and certificates are regularly presented to various dignitaries, he said.

"My staff and marketing folks just missed it," Harmon said of the unaccounted for "L." He said the officers will receive new certificates soon.

In the meantime, Crawford said he is keeping the certificate as a "conversation piece."

"I won't put it up and show it to anyone," he said. "But it is still an honor."

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.