The num­ber of po­lice killed in the line of duty rose sharply in 2016, driven by shoot­ings of po­lice across the coun­try.

The num­ber of po­lice killed in the line of duty rose sharply in 2016, driven by shoot­ings of po­lice around the coun­try, most no­tably am­bushes in Dal­las and Ba­ton Rouge, La.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Marie Pane

From Jan. 1 through Wed­nes­day, 135 of­fi­cers lost their lives. Some died in traf­fic ac­ci­dents, but nearly half were shot to death.

That’s a 56 per­cent in­crease in shoot­ing deaths over the pre­vi­ous year. Of the 64 who were fa­tally shot, 21 were killed in am­bush at­tacks of­ten fu­eled by anger over po­lice use of force in­volv­ing mi­nori­ties.

“We’ve never seen a year in my mem­ory when we’ve had an in­crease of this mag­ni­tude in of­fi­cer shoot­ing deaths,” said Craig Floyd, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the National Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers Me­mo­rial Fund. “These of­fi­cers were killed sim­ply be­cause of the uni­form they wear and the job they do. This is un­ac­cept­able to the hu­mane so­ci­ety that we are.”

In Dal­las, a sniper on July 7 at­tacked at the end of what had been a peace­ful rally against po­lice bru­tal­ity. He killed five law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and wounded nine oth­ers — the largest death toll among law en­force­ment from a sin­gle event since the 9/11 at­tacks, which killed 72 of­fi­cers. Months later, Dal­las busi­nesses and res­i­dents still dis­play blue rib­bons and ban­ners declar­ing, “We sup­port our Dal­las po­lice of­fi­cers.”

But even amid com­mu­nity sup­port, the po­lice de­part­ment re­mains un­set­tled. Hun­dreds of of­fi­cers have re­tired or left the force over the last six months as the city strug­gles to find a way to in­crease pay and save a fail­ing po­lice and fire pen­sion. For­mer Chief David Brown, who be­came a national fig­ure in the af­ter­math, was among those who opted to re­tire. And in­terim Dal­las Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Fred­er­ick Fra­zier said that morale is “al­most nonex­is­tent.”

“A lot of us are go­ing through the mo­tions at work. We’re hop­ing things will get bet­ter with our strug­gle,” he said. Fra­zier added that the at­tack was a “game changer. It changed the per­cep­tion of law en­force­ment. It re­versed the roll af­ter Fer­gu­son. We were the pur­suer and now, we’re be­ing pur­sued.”

Less than two weeks af­ter the Dal­las at­tack, a lone gun­man in Ba­ton Rouge shot and killed three of­fi­cers and wounded three oth­ers out­side a con­ve­nience store in the weeks af­ter a black man, 37-year-old Al­ton Ster­ling, was shot and killed by po­lice dur­ing a strug­gle.

Ba­ton Rouge Po­lice Cpl. Lester Mitchell was part­ners with Matthew Ger­ald, one of the three slain of­fi­cers, and was among the of­fi­cers who raced to the scene of the shoot­ing that also killed sher­iff’s deputy Brad Garafola and of­fi­cer Mon­trell Jack­son. Mitchell has daily re­minders of the deadly shootout, driv­ing past the scene on his way to po­lice head­quar­ters.

“Just pass­ing there, you can’t help but re­play it over and over again,” he said.

Mitchell said the shoot­ing has made him more alert and aware of po­ten­tial dan­gers on pa­trol, some­times in sit­u­a­tions that wouldn’t have alarmed him be­fore, like a hand in a pocket. “You learn to cope with it, be­cause if you don’t, you can drive your­self crazy,” he said.

The National Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers Me­mo­rial Fund’s Floyd said the im­pact of this year has been pro­found on law en­force­ment. Agen­cies are strug­gling to re­cruit of­fi­cers to their ranks and those who con­tinue to serve “talk about how their head is now on a swivel.”

“They’re al­ways look­ing over their shoul­der, al­ways wor­ry­ing about the next at­tack that could come at any time from any di­rec­tion,” Floyd said.

That was un­der­scored by the slay­ing in Novem­ber of a San An­to­nio de­tec­tive who was fa­tally shot and killed out­side po­lice head­quar­ters as he was writ­ing a traf­fic ticket. The man ac­cused of shoot­ing him said he was an­gry about a child-cus­tody bat­tle and sim­ply “lashed out at some­body who didn’t de­serve it.”

A Ge­or­gia state trooper stands near the cas­ket of Amer­i­cus Po­lice Of­fi­cer Ni­cholas Smarr at the Ge­or­gia South­west­ern State Univer­sity Storm Dome be­fore a funeral ser­vice on Dec. 11 in Amer­i­cus. Smarr, who was re­spond­ing to a do­mes­tic dis­tur­bance call Dec. 8, was killed in an at­tack. His life­long friend, univer­sity cam­pus Of­fi­cer Jody Smith, was crit­i­cally wounded af­ter ar­riv­ing on the scene as backup. He died from his in­juries Thurs­day. Bran­den Camp, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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