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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 5 years ago

Frank Pierce: For the fallen

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A police officer of 43 years, Frank Pierce is now in the movie business. His first feature is a documentary to benefit the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR

He was on patrol for the Miami-Dade Police Department when a drunk driver slammed into his Harley.

His body went tumbling, scraping across the pavement. And his bike flew up until gravity pulled it, all 1,000 pounds of it, back down hard onto his pelvis.

“There were times in my life when I was almost dead,” Frank Pierce said, a toothpick dangling from his mouth, sitting behind a desk in his Breakaway Trails home.

He remembers the way his body lay crumpled that day, nearly 45 years ago, underneath a car on the roadside. He remembers praying, his insides crushed, a broken leg bent unnaturally over his shoulder. And he remembers the paramedics cracking it back down again.

He remembers all of it, he says, because he never passed out.

Two years later, Pierce recovered and went straight back to work for the department, to which he’d give the next 40-plus years of his life. He helped other officers with rehabilitation, managed police boats, worked the felony-warrants division, had special assignments with the Secret Service, DEA and U.S. Marshals; and he was a detective.

He had a full life. But many of his friends, those who died in the line of duty and whose families he comforted, whose kids he brought to buy funeral clothes, weren’t so lucky.

That’s what inspires his work today, as a movie producer.

“When we started the company, we didn’t have this in mind,” Pierce said, of Modern City Entertainment, which he owns with his former beat partner Bill Erfurth, of Ft. Lauderdale. “We were just going to start a movie company. … But we decided we wanted to make a movie that meant something.”

“Heroes Behind the Badge,” is a documentary focusing on four officers killed on duty and three wounded from around the United States. It is directed by BAFTA Award-winner Wayne Derrick, shot by Emmy-winning film crews and narrated by Vincent D’Onofrio (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”).

Fifty percent of all of its proceeds will also be donated to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, in Washington D.C.

But, despite being a career cop, the film thing didn’t come out of nowhere.

“I’ve always been a movie buff,” Pierce said, showing off his air conditioned home garage where, surrounding boxes of 3,000 documentary copies, framed posters hang of Clint Eastwood films, war movies and other images celebrating those who surmounted the insurmountable. “I didn’t have what you’d call a great childhood, and I escaped in the movies.”

When he was young, in Chicago, Pierce would spend full days at the local theater, watching features, cartoons and newsreels. When he got older, he worked security for, and even had a few roles in, “Miami Vice.”

Through a radio show he used to host in Miami, Erfurth landed a starring role in a Discovery Channel documentary. He was later hired by Jerry Bruckheimer (“Pirates of the Caribbean,” “CSI”) as technical director for “Bad Boys II.”

“I’m no big deal, you know? I’m just a cop,” Pierce said, his service medals displayed on the opposite wall, behind frames and inside shadow boxes. “The point of the movie is, the public does not get it. ... (Police officers) are in danger all the time just because of what they do and who they are.”

He tapped the desk firmly with his finger.

“They’re always in danger,” he said. “How many people run to the sound of gunfire? ... The basic thought process is ... if someone’s in trouble, I have to get there.”

And it’s the camaraderie of that thought process that kept him so in love with his work for so long, despite its dangers. Even now, in civilian clothes, that hasn’t changed.

“It’s like being on the battlefield — you’ve got to trust each other with your life,” he said. “You form a union with each other. You see so many horrific things. You see people with their faces blown off ... kids drowned in swimming pools. ... You have to tell parents about their kids being dead, handle the bodies, talk to girls that have been raped, their bodies all smashed to hell.”

But the job meant something. It was his. And he has to honor it.

“Every day that I put my uniform on, I was happy,” he said. “I enjoyed going to work. And I got to the point where I enjoyed putting the bad guys away. … It just kind of gets in you.”

Retired in 2001, Pierce has decorated his home as a shrine to his passions and priorities. All of the brickwork in his garage he did himself, after teaching himself the trade. At 74 years old, he keeps a full workout machine next to his customized motorcycle, which is decorated with badges and flags.

He made his outdoor cabinets by hand — self-taught. He’s a Bears football fan — you can tell by the neon sign over his TV. And above the bar in the corner, he keeps model cars in glass cases.

“(People) fix their houses to look like they live perfectly. But personally, it’s more important for me to have my grandson and me on the beach,” he said, pointing to a photo across the room, next to the folded flag from his father’s casket.

“My daughter’s up there,” he pointed, behind him. “My wife. I’ve got Bella.”

A curly haired dog lifted her head then licked her chops.

“These things give me comfort,” he said. “The most important things in life are your family and your friends ... and they’re all here.”

Now showing

Already screened in Canada, Denver and Ft. Lauderdale, “Heroes Behind the Badge” will also be showed 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at EPIC Theatres, 939 Hollywood Blvd., in Deltona.

After the showing in Denver, the FBI said they wanted the film in every high school in America, Frank Pierce, producer, said. Already, police departments in Texas have made it mandatory viewing in training.

Pierce is also in talks to have the film shown in Palm Coast and Daytona.

Visit www.heroesbehindthebadge.com.

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