We live in a dangerous world.
There's no more startling proof of that than the number of police fatalities in the United States which continued to rise for a second straight year in 2011. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 173 officers were killed in the line of duty last year, marking a 13 percent increase from 2010.
Craig W. Floyd, chairman of the NLEOMF, reports that budget cuts have affected law enforcement agencies around the nation and that puts officers at grave risk. He cites a recent survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police that 64 percent of responding law enforcement agencies had cut back on buying or upgrading major equipment, 58 percent had cut back on buying or upgrading technology, and 60 percent had cut back on training.
It disgusts us when we hear reports of government waste funding projects that go nowhere or pumping billions of taxpayer dollars into programs that bleed rather than stimulate the economy.
More and more, we hear of confrontations where officers find themselves outgunned by the firepower of criminals. This fact alone underscores the need to fund our law enforcement agencies so they have the needed equipment to do their job.
According to the FBI news release, of the officers killed in 2011, five were killed while investigating suspicious people, five in entrapments/ambushes, six during tactical situations, 11 during traffic pursuits and 14 during unprovoked attacks.
This region saw its share of law enforcement shootouts in 2011. Last July, Berks County Deputy Sheriff Kyle D. Pagerly was gunned down by an emotionally disturbed man brandishing an AK 47 assault rifle near Hawk Mountain. The gunman, who left a suicide note, was killed by officers in what was termed a "suicide by cop."
Testimony began earlier this week in the Northampton County trial of 46-year-old George Hitcho Jr., who killed Freemansburg police officer Robert Lasso with a shotgun last August. According to prosecutors, Hithko was already angry following an argument with a neighbor before his fatal confrontation with officer Lasso, who was trying to fend off Hitcho's dogs after responding to a complaint.
In January of this year, Harvey Hedden, executive director of the International Law Enforcement Trainers and Educators Association, said that "police work can be 99 percent boredom and 1 percent panic." He added that the most dangerous duty of all is often the "routine" calls and responses.
Pat McCarthy, who advises police agencies across the country, says it's time to change our thinking, adding that many times, police are exposing themselves to increasing dangers which just aren't necessary. He says the days of knocking down doors in drug cases should be over and that given what's going on now, other options need to be considered. He says you can have all of the equipment in the world, but if somebody wants to kill you, they will if you give them the opportunity.
With this being National Police Week, the best way to honor those who have died in the line of duty would be to assure that their colleagues, who are sworn to protect us, have the proper equipment and training to do their work.
Law enforcement funding should never be sacrificed or used as a political chip during an election year.
By Jim Zbick