Usually at some point during the weekend, regardless of how tired I am, I will bring up the news on my iPhone or my laptop. I admit it, I'm a news junkie. I need to know who is winning the big game, what's happening worldwide, and what the government is doing to ruin my life. But lately I've come to dread checking out my Yahoo! news page on weekends. Because lately, the headline tends to be that multiple police officers have been murdered in the same senseless incident.
It's not an exaggeration to say that 2009 was a rough year to be a cop in this country. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) recently released its body count for the year, and the result isn't pretty.
As of the writing of this editorial (Dec. 20), 47 officers were killed by gunfire in 2009. That's a 24 percent increase over the previous year.
According to NLEOMF, 38 American police officers were killed by hostile gunfire in 2008. So the increase in officer murders is nine. In 2009, 11 officers were killed in just three shocking weekend incidents: Four were slain in Oakland on Saturday March 21, three in Pittsburgh on Saturday April 4, and four in Parkland, Wash., on Sunday Nov. 29. So the increase in officer murders is more than accounted for by the bloody toll of these infamous mass cop killings.
The trend is quite plain: Criminals have become more than willing to attack multiple officers at a time using a variety of tactics. Which means that your job has become even more dangerous.
From its initial launch 34 years ago, one of the goals of POLICE Magazine has been to inform you of the dangers you face on the job. Keeping names off of the national police memorial wall is our primary editorial mission. And it's one that we take very seriously.
That's why we've decided to launch a new series of in-depth feature articles that we are calling "Duty Dangers." This occasional series kicks off this month with Dean Scoville's sobering look at ambush attacks. And I can't tell you when it will end. We'll keep going to work on this until we exhaust the topic and that could be a very long time, as you well know.
We chose to start this series with "Ambush" for a very good reason. This tactic has become one of the greatest dangers faced by American law enforcement officers. In 2009 alone, at least six of your brothers and sisters were murdered by cowards who lay in wait, who sprang well-planned sneak attacks, or who used some form of ruse to attract officers into a kill zone.
The best known of these attacks claimed the lives of four Lakewood, Wash., officers as they sipped their morning coffee and prepared to go on shift. These officers could not have anticipated such a scenario. Only a truly evil and cowardly individual could have hatched a plan to gun down four unsuspecting people in a sneak attack. Thankfully, one of these officers lived long enough to put a round in the cowardly scum and one of his brother officers from the Seattle Police Department ended the threat once and for all.
Like the coffee-shop killer, the majority of the ambush killers were dangerous parolees who had declared war on the police. They didn't know the officers they killed; they just knew they were officers. All they saw in their sights were badges.
Ambush is perhaps the cruelest of all police murders. It's impersonal, it's cold, it's the equivalent of war or even worse...hunting. And you are very vulnerable to it.
There is no surefire way to prevent ambush. As police officers in a free society, you cannot treat everyone you encounter as the enemy; you can't treat every call as if you were going into battle; and you must wait for the bad guy to act before you react. The bad guys know these things, and they can use them to gain tactical advantage.
You can read Dean's feature and get some advice from tactical trainers on how to prevent ambushes and how to counter them. There are things you can do that can save your life. But the sad truth is that ambush is a threat that is not easily neutralized or countered. That's why it's so devastating.