BRADENTON -- The big "thank you" to the Bradenton Police Department came in the form of three dozen letters.
The messages described officers as heroes, and others even included pencil drawings of police-officer stick figures and hearts.
They were all penned by Manatee County children.
It's a gesture that comes at a time of fierce anti-police sentiments and debates surrounding law enforcement's relationships with the minority community.
Patti Durham, who works for the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition, came up with the idea and worked with Manatee County Youth Commissioner Megan Bossert.
"We wanted to show encouragement and support" to local law enforcement, the 47-year-old Bradenton resident said.
On Friday afternoon, four of the young authors sat in Manatee Elementary School's auditorium. One by one, they read their letters and spoke about them.
Darrian Hird, 9, thanked officers for their bravery, leadership and faithfulness to Manatee County in his letter.
"I was trying to say that I'm glad that police are in our life because if they wasn't in our life, a lot of people would have been suffering, because robbers are in this world and they like to try to steal stuff and everything," the third-grader said. "But when police come, they solve everything."
Darrian said it might take officers a while, but they solve cases.
Susan Redman, 11, thanked officers who patrol roads in the city.
"They're nice and our friends," she said.
Third-grader Alexis Vazquez-Contreras said he sees police officers like big brothers and big sisters.
"They protect us... and keep us safe," the 8-year-old said.
Jesus Valerio, 10, wrote about a school lockdown in his letter. He told officers that they closed windows, locked doors, turned the lights off and stayed silent until it was over. He thanked officers for making sure people follow the law.
Bradenton Police Captain William Fowler said officers try to set a good example for children so they know they can talk to them should anything bad happen.
"There is nothing more important than our children," Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski wrote in sending the letters by email.
Manatee Elementary School Principal Deborah Houston praised the children's letters and their sweet gesture.
"This was an opportunity to let officers know that we do appreciate what they do for us," she said.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.