If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know that I frequently write on the topic of officers killed in the line of duty. You also know that 2007 saw an unprecedented spike in officer deaths from previous years. What you may not know is that 2008 appears to be on track to equal 2007’s record.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, as of March 1, 27 police officers have died in the line of duty this year. This informative Website is devoted entirely to officers down, with year-by-year, state-by-state, type of incident breakdowns of all officers killed in the line of duty over the years.
Time and space will not allow me to discuss all 27 police deaths so far this year. Instead, I will cite the following three tragedies because they reflect the broad spectrum of dangers that you face in law enforcement today.
The most recent police killing occurred in “my” department—the Cleveland PD. Two officers on patrol in a marked zone car spotted suspicious males drinking beer in a residential street garage only a few blocks from the department’s 4th District where the officers are assigned.
The officers stopped their zone car and went on foot to check out the males, sparking a foot chase. As the officers began the foot pursuit, suddenly one fleeing suspect turned, gun in hand, and shot one of the officers in the lower abdomen, just below his body armor. Both the wounded officer and his partner exchanged fire with the suspect, who disappeared through yards.
Other officers raced the critically wounded officer (who was still talking to them) in the back seat of a zone car to a trauma center. Despite gallant efforts to save his life, the officer died six hours later in the hospital.
Cleveland Officer Derek Owens was 36, with 10 years on the job. He left a widow and two young children (ages six and three). His badge will join the other 105 badges in the CPD Badge Case of officers killed in the line of duty.
When the shots were fired, CPD immediately mobilized, and poured numerous officers, including patrol, aerial, K-9s, and SWAT into the area, effectively locking down a multi-block residential area. A massive house-to-house and yard-by-yard manhunt began, resulting in the arrests of four suspects—including the suspected shooter—by SWAT several blocks from the shooting scene.
On Feb. 7, Los Angeles SWAT Officer Randal (“Randy”) Simmons was killed and SWAT Officer Jimmy Veestra was critically wounded during a hostage rescue attempt. The suspect had reportedly called 911 to say he’d shot and killed three family members and challenged LAPD to “come and get him.” Responding officers recognized this as a SWAT situation and, shortly after SWAT arrived, they obtained intel that a crisis entry needed to be made.
During the crisis entry, the suspect reportedly fired at a window team then shot Officer Veenstra in the jaw. Officer Simmons did what he was trained to do, interjected himself between his downed partner and the threat, and was shot and killed by a bullet to the face. Other LAPD SWAT officers courageously rescued both officers, and also a downed hostage under fire by the suspect.
Tragically, Simmons died, as did the hostage, but Jimmy Veenstra survived. This tragedy is the first-ever line of duty hostile fire death in LAPD SWAT’s 41 year history, and has resulted in widespread sympathy, especially from the SWAT community. Randy Simmons’ death serves as a sobering reminder of the danger that all SWAT officers face. Simmons, a 27-year LAPD veteran with 20 years in SWAT left a wife and two children.
Last week’s TREXPO West conference and expo was dedicated to slain LAPD SWAT Officer Randy Simmons.
The next police death that I want to discuss occurred when Officer Victor Lozada of the Dallas Police Department lost control of his motorcycle while on dignitary motorcade escort duty. Anyone familiar with dignitary motorcades will readily attest to the notorious dangers of motorcycle escort duty. Lozada’s death serves as a reminder of the danger all motorcycle officers face. He was 49 years old, a 20-year DPD veteran, and left a wife and four children.
Three brave police officers, from three different police departments, and all killed in very different circumstances.
It’s been a bad year, and it’s barely started.