Po­lice fa­tal­i­ties on rise in ‘stag­ger­ing’ trend; deaths by firearms soar

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By An­drea Billups

It’s been a vi­o­lent year for the na­tion’s law en­force­ment.

Through mid-Novem­ber, to­tal fa­tal­i­ties were up by 30 per­cent over 2006, with deaths by gun­shots up by 39 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Law En­force­ment Of­fi­cers Me­mo­rial Fund in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

“Th­ese are stag­ger­ing num­bers,” said Craig Floyd, the group’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer and chair­man. “We haven’t seen num­bers this high when it comes to fa­tal­i­ties in nearly 30 years.”

The trend matches FBI sta­tis­tics that show vi­o­lent crime is also start­ing to rise af­ter de­clin­ing for 15 years.

In 2006, 44 of­fi­cers were killed by gun­fire, with 64 fa­tally shot al- ready this year.

“What makes it par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing is we’ve made such great strides in the last three decades in pre­vent­ing firearms deaths among of­fi­cers,” he said. “The sta­tis­tics are alarm­ing to say the least.”

Texas leads the na­tion in law-en­force­ment of­fi­cer deaths with 22. Of those, 10 of­fi­cers were fa­tally shot. Florida was sec­ond with 13 of­fi­cers who have died so far in 2007.

Par­tic­u­larly hard-hit has been law en­force­ment in South Florida, with Broward County suf­fer­ing three po­lice shoot­ings in four months.

On Nov. 7, Broward County Sher­iff’s Deputy Paul Rein, 76, was fa­tally shot af­ter he was am­bushed while trans­port­ing a pris­oner, who was serv­ing two life terms for armed rob­bery, to court. The felon, Michael Mazza, tossed Deputy Rein’s body from the van and sped away. Deputy Rein died later at a hospi­tal. Mazza was ap­pre­hended about four hours later at a pawn­shop.

Broward Sher­iff’s Sgt. Chris Reyka was fa­tally shot in Pom­pano Beach on Aug. 10, and Broward Deputy Maury Her­nan­dez was shot in the head and nearly killed at a traf­fic stop Aug. 6.

Of­fi­cer Jose So­mo­hano of the Mi­ami-Dade Po­lice De­part­ment died in a shootout Sept. 13. Three of his fel­low of­fi­cers were wounded in the at­tack, which oc­curred at an apart­ment com­plex.

Palm Beach County po­lice spokesman Paul Miller said crim­i­nals in­creas­ingly have stronger fire power than po­lice — and have no qualms with us­ing it. His force started an of­fen­sive ear­lier this year on gangs that net­ted nearly 2,000 ar­rests, with 133 weapons con­fis­cated and 348 ve­hi­cles seized.

“There seems to be a grow­ing propen­sity for crim­i­nals to shoot at of­fi­cers,” said Mr. Miller, a for­mer spokesman for the FBI.

Palm Beach County joins a grow­ing num­ber of law-en­force­ment agen­cies na­tion­wide that ap­prove of of­fi­cers car­ry­ing high­pow­ered as­sault ri­fles. The sher­iff au­tho­rized AR-15s for all po­lice ve­hi­cles, and is in the process of train­ing of­fi­cers on th­ese weapons, Mr. Miller said.

Mul­ti­ple-death in­ci­dents also are an­other area of con­cern, added Mr. Floyd. So far, there have been six mul­ti­ple shoot­ings of law-en­force­ment of­fi­cers.

“It gives you some in­di­ca­tion of the types of crim­i­nals po­lice are now fac­ing,” he said. “That to me says you are deal­ing with a more cold-blooded, brazen type of crim­i­nal out on the streets who would kill mul­ti­ple po­lice of­fi­cers. I don’t think that they would hes­i­tate at all to kill any of us.”

In 2006, Mr. Floyd said 145 of­fi­cers were killed in the line of duty. Al­ready this year, the fig­ure stands at 168, and he fears it will hit 200 be­fore year’s end. The fig­ures in­clude deaths from gun­shots, traf­fic in­ci­dents and other causes.

“What I’m wor­ried about is that the level of vi­o­lence in this coun­try is ris­ing,” he said. “The num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties of po­lice is a barom­e­ter of crime across the board. They are the front lines of de­fense in this coun­try. If they are be­ing killed in th­ese kinds of num­bers, we have to be very con­cerned not only for their safety but the safety of ev­ery­one across the U.S.”

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