Violent week a grim sign as targeted killings of police officers rise

SEATTLE – The shooting of two Connecticut officers and the wounding of a third underscored a particularly violent week for US police and fits into a grim pattern: even as more officers went off the job over the past two years, the number of sacrifice and sacrifice.

According to organizations that track anti-police violence, 56 officers have been killed by gunfire this year — 14% more than this time last year and about 45% more than in 2020. The country is on track for its deadliest year since 2016 , when 67 officers were killed.

While the numbers include some officers killed by accidental gunfire, the number of ambushes in which police officers were injured or killed in surprise attacks and had little chance to defend themselves has skyrocketed since 2020, accounting for almost half of those killed this year officials off.

Apparently such an attack struck Wednesday in Bristol, Connecticut, where State Police said Bristol Police Sgt. Dustin Demonte and Officer Alex Hamzy were killed and Officer Alec Iurato was wounded while responding to an 911 call that appeared “was a deliberate act to lure law enforcement to the scene.”

At least 11 police officers were shot dead across the country this week, including one fatally in Greenville, Mississippi and another in Las Vegas.

“These are really scary numbers for law enforcement agencies, not just individual officers, but the organizations they work for, which have to take this into account when hiring, retaining and training officers,” said Bill Alexander, executive director of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, tracking the deaths of officers on duty.

“It’s not lost on officers that the job they signed up for has become more dangerous,” he said. “That has to put a significant mental strain on the agencies as a whole and on the individual officers doing the work.”

An off-duty officer was one of the five dead in a shooting spree by a 15-year-old boy in Raleigh, North Carolina Thursday night, but it was not clear if the officer was targeted. In late June, a man in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky opened fire on officers serving a warrant in a domestic violence count, killing three and injuring five others – a scene the deputies described as “pure hell”.

The Fraternal Order of Police reported that as of September 30 of this year there had been 63 ambush attacks in which officers were wounded, 93 officers were shot and 24 fatally killed. That’s a lower number of such attacks than in the first nine months of 2021, when there were 75 ambushes by officers, with 93 shot dead and 21 killed. The total number of ambushes in which police were injured in the past year has more than doubled since 2020.

The increase in police ambushes and killings comes at a time when many departments across the country are facing staff shortages, some agencies are laying off hundreds of officers and struggling to fill vacancies.

COVID-19 has been the biggest killer of police officers so far in recent years, with 280 deaths in 2020, 467 in 2021 and 64 this year Officer Down Memorial Page reports. But many officials have taken early retirement or resigned out of frustration at what they see as declining public support ‘Defunding Police’ effort sparked by George Floyd murder by a Minneapolis officer and the deaths of other black people by law enforcement.

The number of officers nationwide fell from about 719,000 in 2020 to 688,000 in 2021, according to data reported to the FBI. Officer hiring has recovered somewhat this year, but resignations and retirements continue to pose a challenge for departments across the country, the Washington, DC-based Police Executive Research Forum found in a survey earlier this year.

Mike Zaro is the police chief in Lakewood, Washington, a town of about 60,000 where four officers were murdered at a coffee shop in 2009. He was the deputy police chief at the time, and he said the department continues to see officers taking early retirement due to anxiety and stress that can be traced to the attack.

“I started in the early ’90s, and back then and for a long time, whenever you were dealing with trauma related to the job, whether it was someone else’s or your own, you just soaked it up and moved on ‘ Zaro said. “After 2009, something of that magnitude, we realized we had to try to do something different. We spontaneously worked to develop methods to encourage people to seek help. … Eventually it became ingrained in what we do. Today it’s called officer wellness.”

Zaro recalls the importance of community support in helping the department weather the aftermath of the murders. Such support, he said, is crucial in helping officers accept the risks they face.

Many law enforcement supporters worry about whether departments still have such support, given the tenor of national discourse on policing. They stress that questionable or illegal use of force by officers is the rare exception rather than the rule, but police have lost the trust of many people who are outraged at seeing repeated cell phone or body camera videos of officers abusing their power.

“It would be infinitely more difficult to accept those risks and deal with the loss when the community either suggests that officers deserve it, or makes excuses for the person who committed the crime, or just doesn’t support them,” he said Zaro. “With the police beatings we’ve seen across the country in recent years, it’s more important to have that part of the conversation now.”

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Sarah Y. Kim

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