The funeral Tuesday for a Virginia police officer killed on her first day of work serves as the latest reminder of an uptick of fatal police shootings so far this year.
Of 14 line-of-duty deaths of law enforcement officers recorded in the first two months of 2016, 11 were the result of a gun being used against the officer. As of this time last year, only one of the 15 officers’ deaths was firearm-related, which implies greater willingness on the part of offenders to go after the cops.
Shootings are generally the leading cause of death each year for officers killed in the line of duty, but a quick succession of shooting deaths in February coupled with recent anti-police rhetoric has heightened some law enforcement officials concern over deaths this year.
“I cannot recall any time in recent years when six law enforcement professionals have been murdered by gunfire in multiple incidents in a single week,” said Craig Floyd, CEO of the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, remarking on a particularly violent week in February.
Six officers and deputies were fatally shot in incidents in Georgia, North Dakota, Maryland, Oregon and Colorado between Feb. 5 and 11.
Though the recent spate of fatal shootings produces a dramatic 1000 percent increase in the number of officers fatally shot in the first two months of 2016 compared to 2015 — 11 deaths compared to one death — the data appears to reflect an abnormally low number of shootings in the beginning of 2015.
Data from the full first quarter of 2015 shows seven police officers were fatally shot during the first three months of the year, according to the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The 42 total firearms-related fatalities recorded in 2015 also represents a 19 percent decrease from the average annual number of firearm-related police fatalities for the last decade, according to data from the fund.
Saturday’s killing of Prince William County Police Officer Ashley Guindon marks the most recent line of duty death this year. The 28-year-old officer was gunned down on her first day on the job as she and two other officers responded to a call for a domestic altercation at a Woodbridge home.
Two other officers, Jesse Hempen and David McKeown, were shot and injured in the incident.
Police said active-duty Army staff sergeant Ronald Hamilton opened fire on the officers as they approached his front door to investigate a 911 call placed by his wife, Crystal Sheree Hamilton, who they believe he also shot and killed.
In the wake of the fatal string of shootings, the National Fraternal Order of Police has sought to reignite its campaign to expand federal hate crimes laws so that attacks targeting law enforcement officers could be prosecuted as such.
“It is time for the Congress to get serious about this senseless violence in this country and pass meaningful legislation that not only protects the rights of every citizen but also recognizes that law enforcement officers are citizens and deserve the protection that they are counted on to preserve,” said National FOP President Chuck Canterbury last month in announcements posted on the organization’s Facebook page.
Law enforcement associations have also doubled down on calls for officers to be vigilant in following safety precautions so as not to expose themselves to unnecessary risk.
“We have to be vigilant and have to make sure our officer are following all the safety protocols,” said Jonathan Thompson, executive director of the National Sheriff’s Association. “Use your training, follow your procedures, and above all do your job as you are expected.”
Police leaders and unions from across the country have had varied reactions, with some lashing out at pop singer Beyonce over her performance at the Super Bowl that involved dancers clad in Black Panther Party costumes. Some Black Lives Matter members have also called for killing police officers, though the inchoate group’s most-prominent figures have disavowed such talk.
Though the recent spate of fatal shootings of law enforcement officers has heightened agency concern over officer safety, it’s unclear whether the incidents are indicative of police officers being sought out by attackers with anti-police views, though at least one case was.
At least three of the fatal police shootings this year — including the death of Officer Guindon — stemmed from domestic violence calls, and two occurred while officers attempted to serve warrants, according to media reports.
In Maryland, two Harford County Sheriff’s deputies were killed Feb. 10 by a man with an open warrant. Deputy Patrick Dailey had responded to a restaurant for a report of a wanted man and was talking to the suspect when he pulled out a gun and abruptly shot the deputy. Deputy Mark Logsdon was killed in a shootout with the suspect in the parking lot.
“It’s our belief that because he knew there was a warrant out for his arrest and what the ultimate outcome of that encounter would be, his arrest, and that is why he took the action against the police officer,” Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said at the time. “We don’t believe he laid in wait to ambush, but certainly the officer was target to the extent that he didn’t want to be apprehended and that is the course of action he wanted to take.”
At least one of this year’s killings appears to be an ambush attack. Officer Thomas Cottrell of the Danville Police Department in Ohio was fatally shot Jan. 17 by a man who officials said was “looking to kill an officer.”
As part of its annual analysis of officer deaths, the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund classifies the circumstances of firearms-related deaths. Preliminary data regarding this year’s deaths was not available, but in 2014 and 2012 organization has tallied as many as 15 ambush-style fatal shootings.
Police associations say there is a real fear that anti-police rhetoric is translating to real world consequences.
“It is not just talk; it is not just rhetoric. Those spewing this hatred and those calling for violence are having an impact,” Mr. Canterbury wrote in an FOP announcement. “They have been given a platform by the media to convey the message that police officers are their enemy and it is time to attack that enemy There is a very real and very deliberate campaign to terrorize our nation’s law enforcement officers.”