US law enforcement deaths dropped in 2012, nonprofit report says
WASHINGTON – The number of law enforcement officers who died performing their duties in the U.S. declined by about 20 percent in 2012 after rising the two previous years, a non-profit organization reported Thursday.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund said in a report that 127 federal, state and local officers have died so far on the job. The majority of officers who died were either shot or were victims of traffic accidents, figures show. City and county police officers comprised most of the victims, but the list also includes a prison guard in Indiana who suffered a heart attack while responding to an unruly inmate, a deputy sheriff in Missouri who was fatally shot while responding to an ambush and a Coast Guard officer who was killed off the California coast while pursuing a vessel suspected of smuggling.
The toll is on pace to be the lowest since 2009, when 122 officers died, and this year would be only the second year since 1960 that the number of fatalities has dipped below 130. The organization, which also maintains a memorial wall in Washington bearing the names of fallen officers, reported 165 deaths last year and 154 in 2010.
The decline is heartening after two straight "alarming" years and may suggest that police departments, though still battered by budget cuts, are placing a greater emphasis on officer safety, said Craig Floyd, the chairman and chief executive of the Washington, D.C.-based memorial organization.
"I think officers are approaching these potentially life-threatening situations in a more cautious, focused manner," said Floyd, noting the increased prevalence of body armor among officers.
Texas had the highest number of law enforcement fatalities at 10, followed by Georgia (eight) and Colorado and Maryland (six each). Thirteen of the officers who died were women.
There have been 49 firearms-related deaths this year, as of Thursday. Those include David Gogian and Jeff Atherly, two Topeka, Kan., police officers shot outside a grocery story last week while responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle, and two West Virginia state troopers, Eric Workman and Marshall Bailey, who were shot during an August traffic stop. Tom Decker, a police officer in Cold Spring, Minn., and a father of four, was fatally shot last month in what authorities called an ambush killing.
Car crashes, though down from last year, were the leading cause of death -- causing 50. A Prince George's County, Md., police officer who was pursuing a suspected thief died in August when his cruiser ran off the highway and crashed into a ditch. Another officer from the same department died in a crash two months later. Neither officer was wearing a seat belt, prompting Police Chief Mark Magaw to stress the need for officers to buckle up inside their patrol cars.
In Willoughby, Ohio, after Patrolman Jason Gresko's police cruiser collided with a pickup truck en route to an emergency call in September, Chief Jack Beckwith cited the death as a reminder to his officers to be vigilant in responding carefully to emergencies and told his roughly 50-officer department that "this could have happened to every one of them."
"It definitely takes a heavy toll on everybody personally that's on the job," Beckwith said. "We're small enough that everybody knows each other very well."
Other causes of death included job-related illnesses, stabbings and helicopter crashes. Two Atlanta police officers died in a helicopter crash in November during a nighttime search for a missing boy.
The Montclair Times Editorial: 'Mobile station' will enhance public safety
Community policing is an effective euphemism for police officers who are literally "in" a community, rather than driving through a neighborhood. Officers patrolling on sidewalks interact with residents and businesspeople. Gaining familiarity with their assigned beats, foot-patrol officers observe potential concerns and problems in the making. Walking along avenues, the officers' presence may discourage criminals — and the officers' presence certainly increases the perception of protection and security for folks residing, working or shopping on these avenues.
Perception is imperative, as is the presence of police.
Foot patrols must be augmented by officers in vehicles who can quickly respond to emergencies throughout Montclair. This synergy enhances public safety.
In Montclair and many other municipalities during recent decades, there's a preponderance of officers ensconced in their vehicles driving through neighborhoods without many, or any, officers walking in neighborhoods.
Recognizing residents' request for officers to be available for face-to-face conversations, more than a dozen years ago Montclair established an auxiliary police station in a storefront in Lackawanna Plaza shopping center in the 4th Ward. Our town also bought and installed a trailer in a field off Glenridge Avenue, also in the 4th Ward. The trailer served as a community-policing facility for officers who patrolled the neighborhood. This station generally was staffed, however, with officers during daytime hours. At night, when crime is always more prevalent, the trailer was usually unstaffed. Eventually, the Montclair Police Department vacated its storefront and locked its trailer, abandoning this version of community policing.
Montclair 's vacant community-policing trailer, ironically, got plastered with graffiti.
Montclair Police Chief David Sabagh requests a specialized box truck that would function as a mobile community policing station. The Community Service Unit vehicle is not inexpensive: Equipped with computers and communications gear, the truck is pegged at $175,000.
Pricier is Sabagh's request to the Township Council to hire five police officers for this unit, and presumably the promotion to, or creation of, a supervisory slot to oversee the unit.
A mobile community policing vehicle is logical for Montclair and will provide immediate value and long-term assurance in Montclair's neighborhoods where crime is high and a gang presence is conspicuous. It will be a forward base from which police officers and detectives can operate, and will invite residents to interact with the vehicle's officers.
Montclair can use more patrol officers to staff the police chief's proposed unit. In this budget-shocked era, the Township Council members must weigh where the dollars come from, now and in upcoming tax-stressed years.