In 1995, Plant City Police Department (PCPD) hired then 25-year-old Dennis Pawlowski as a police officer for the night shift. He worked from 4 p.m. until 4 a.m., patrolling the streets on the west side of town, including Madison, Ball, Warren and Renfro.
Last week, after working for PCPD for 28 years, Pawlowski retired from the force. His fellow officers, members of his family, civic leaders and citizens celebrated his retirement at a ceremony at police headquarters, where he was presented a commemorative plaque, a retirement badge with identification card and his service firearm.
Over the course of his career, Pawlowski served in a variety of capacities, including patrolman, in the bicycle unit, K9 officer, field training officer and accreditation manager. In 2022, Chief Bradford presented him a “Legacy Badge,” a badge bestowed to the longest tenured police officer in the agency. His name was engraved on the back of the badge. During the ceremony, the badge was passed on to Master Patrol Officer Darren Culmer, who now holds the distinction.
Plant City Vice Mayor Mike Sparkman and City Manager Bill McDaniel shared personal stories and highlights of his career. Both praised Dennis for his years of selfless service and were thankful for their years of friendship with Dennis.
Police Chief James Bradford spoke of Pawlowski’s tenure and how he was an integral part of PCPD’s success over the years and how Dennis is leaving a legacy that will endure forever.
“Officer Pawlowski was a mainstay here at the police department,” said Bradford. “He’s proved to be wise, caring and always set the perfect example for everybody else.”
A testament to that example was the number of residents who took off work to show up to honor the man who served not only the community at large but their families. Plant City resident Nicole Robinson met Pawlowski in 1995 while living on Madison Street with her two daughters, aged five and seven and her mother. Her young nieces and nephews were frequent visitors. “Officer Pawlowski was like a father figure to our kids because we were all single mothers,” she said.
He played kickball with the children and took them fishing on his days off. He gave them insight into spirituality and faith. He was there for her family during births, deaths, birthdays and graduations. Robinson said those simple acts of kindness had a lasting impact on her family. “During that time I had hit a rough spell and was standing on a cliff at that point in my life and every time I saw him, he would hug me, love me and tell me he was praying for me,” she said. “I thank God for placing him in our lives, his strong faith in Christ is why I’m still here and I’m the person that I am today.”
Pawloski almost chose another career field. He applied to both the police department and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Both departments were processing his applications at the same time. PCPD was the first to offer him employment.
“It was a God thing and even though I have a passion for wildlife, it all fell into place,” he said.
While he can look back on a successful career with satisfaction, his time as a community-oriented police officer holds a special place in his heart. “I built so many lifelong relationships and to have that kind of positive impact on people has meant a lot to me,” he said.
Pawlowski’s future plans, in addition to hunting, fishing and family vacations, include expanding Trinity Sportsman Ministries, a ministry he started in 2005 to share the message of Christ through outdoor experiences.
While Robinson, whose children are now grown up and have children of their own, is happy that Pawlowski has retired, she’ll miss the life lessons he instilled and the encouragement to be her best self. “Our community needs more officers like Dennis Pawlowski who will set an example for kids in the community,” she said.