Partnerships, awareness help Martin County deputies connect with public

Officer in Washington latest to die on duty

STUART, Fla. - It’s been a deadly 24 hours for law enforcement officers. Gunmen shot at least four officers across Washington, Tennessee, and Arizona. The shootings come around the same time prosecutors cleared a Charlotte, North Carolina officer in the September shooting death of a man. So NewsChannel 5 spent a couple hours with a sheriff's deputy to see and talk about their days on the job.

Lt. Joe Kukuvka from the Martin County Sheriff's Office knew his afternoon could go in a million different directions after he was alerted to this message: “A white male is carrying a weapon, unknown if gun or knife.”

Someone called dispatch to report a man carrying a weapon in their neighborhood.

Kukuvka pulled into the neighborhood and recognized the man right away. With three other deputies around as back-up, the lieutenant started things off with a conversation.

“That respectful exchange, that's what we're always seeking and we just want people to have that from people out there,” Kukuvka said.

It turns out the man didn't have a weapon when deputies arrived.

Kukuvka said a level-headed approach helps him avoid problems.

“The hyper-vigilance never changes for us, no matter the circumstances,” he added.

He spoke to the dozen or so deputies under his watch Thursday morning about the shooting in Tacoma, Washington.

These days the sheriff's office responds to calls in pairs. And just last week deputies received training on what do to if they get ambushed.

“It’s not so much of a fear, you have to have a healthy respect for your circumstance and where you work,” Kukuvka said.

It may seem like tensions between police and the public are swelling. Kukuvka pointed out the close community in Martin County helps him connect with the public before an emergency.

“I live in my neighborhood right next to my neighbors, one’s a store manager, the other is a teacher,” he said pointing out he’s a member of the community like anyone else. 

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