Shooting of Police Officers Increases
Over 63 law enforcement officers have been shot and killed this year so far, according to this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer. It's a topic of concern that's circulated numbers of law enforcement discussion groups both at the street officer level but at the administrative level as well.
Questions range from a lagging economy, more guns available to criminals, increased gang activity, lack of focus by the federal government at local safety issues because they are watching international terrorist and others. All good questions that have merit but it doesn't answer why increasing numbers of law enforcement officers are being killed violently. There have previously been deaths related to vehicle accidents and even some training incidents but the number of shooting deaths is significantly higher.
My observation seems to center on the change of attitude of the public toward law enforcement officers. It would be helpful for one of the think tanks to survey comparing attitudes of the public over the past several years and determine if there is a change toward law enforcement officers. Another question to ask has there ever been a deterrent to violence toward police officers and if so was if formal or informal and has it literally or figuratively changed?
It is this writer's opinion that simply arming the law enforcement with bigger guns and more aggressive tactics will beget similar responses from those bent on their demise.
It would be helpful to measure public sentiment toward law enforcement officers from those communities experiencing increased violence toward police and those who have not seen an increase or even experienced a decrease.
A recent comment made by a gang member explains some of the mentality. Simply that since police wear body armor. it's important to shoot them in the head to make sure they are dead. A recent discussion group of which I belong stated that the bounty (the amount paid to have someone killed) is exponentially higher on a law enforcement officer because of the likelihood of the shooter not surviving the encounter. My concern is that the word "bounty" is even associated with law enforcement officers.
Ninety-nine percent of the population ought to view our law enforcement officers as individuals who are a resource; to be of assistance. For that other one percent, they should know that officers will treat them with respect and use only that force necessary to restrain them. For those who are intent on killing officers, they should be aware that the officer is trained well to survive and will do everything possible to do so. Cops are no different than any other individual. They want to go home safe at the end of the day.
Investments in less lethal equipment, training, problem solving, and confidence building takes time, people, money and other resources. Image and conduct may be part of the equation, but those that set policy must understand that police officers are peace keepers, not a local militia. They should clearly spell that out in policy, training and their public support for so called "non traditional policing programs."
We will not arrest ourselves out of the issues of violence and the other social concerns that are at the core of the acts of violence and crime. Law enforcement officers have a role to play in the problem solving and can contribute great insights into what they see and hear in their communities if people are willing to listen and not "kill the messenger."
I've said repeatedly that law enforcement is a calling, not simply a profession. It takes a special person to have the drive and dedication to do the job right with honor and ethical conduct. We as police administrators have to work hard to make sure we can find those people and encourage them to join our ranks. The community must be willing to participate, partner, and find the resources necessary to solve the problems. Accountability rises higher than the police ranks. Self-examination of community programs and responses help to create the healthy environment that hopefully allows individuals to find constructive ways of venting their anger and frustration constructively rather than through acts of violence or property damage.
It's not an easy task but one that needs to have open and honest dialogue underway immediately.