More officers dying by ambush, new research shows

U.S.

Family members of New York City Police Department Officer Wilbert Mora walk towards a waiting vehicle as they attend the arrival of Mora’s remains at a funeral home in the Manhattan borough of New York, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Officer Mora, who died Tuesday, was gravely wounded last week in a Harlem shooting that also killed his partner. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

(NewsNation Now) — A rising number of police officers have been killed in firearm-related incidents and ambushes — a trajectory that is underscored by recent shootings in states such as Texas, New York and Missouri.

Earlier this month, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund released findings that the number of law enforcement professionals nationwide who died in the line of duty in 2021 increased 55% over the previous year.

“I think that this is sort of unprecedented times when you look at law enforcement officers dying in the line of duty, and this has been a very tragic past couple weeks,” said Troy Anderson, the memorial fund’s executive director and officer of the safety and wellness program.

COVID-19 was the leading cause of officer line-of-duty deaths in 2021, contributing to what the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund cited as the deadliest year in history for law enforcement.

However, firearm-related deaths are also on the rise, claiming the lives of 62 officers nationwide — a 38% increase from the previous year, according to National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. The deadly trend has continued in the first month of 2022 with four officers killed and several more hurt in firearm-related scenes so far.

“One of the things that sort of jumped out statistically to us when we were looking at our numbers were the ambush killings that happened last year,” Anderson said. “So those numbers went up significantly from 2020 — there were only six ambush killings. And in the year 2021, that number jumped up to 19.”

The officers killed in 2022 are:

  • Officer Wilbert Mora, New York City Police Department
  • Det. Jason Rivera, New York City Police Department
  • Cpl. Charles Galloway, Harris County Constable’s Office
  • Officer Fernando Arroyos, Los Angeles Police Department

A situation in Texas on Thursday was the latest in a wave of line-of-duty shootings that have touched communities throughout the country in the past few weeks.

Three officers suffered non-life-threatening injuries during a police chase and shootout Thursday in Houston. Two of the injured officers were released from the hospital Friday morning.

Wednesday, a Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputy was shot and wounded after a traffic stop and that same day two officers were rushed to the hospital after being shot in Ferguson, Missouri. On Jan. 23, a Houston-area deputy was fatally shot during a traffic stop and on Jan. 21, two officers were shot and killed during a domestic response at a Harlem apartment.

New York police Officer Jason Rivera’s funeral was held Friday morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. He came from an immigrant family and grew up in a community with strained police relations, but joined the force to make a difference in the “chaotic city,” he once wrote.

Although it’s hard to pin down what might be driving the recent series of police killings, Anderson says a few elements are at play. Notably, officers involved in mostly online or simulation training during pandemic lockdowns could be underprepared for real-life ambush scenarios, Anderson said.

“I think agencies are now realizing, especially with some of the lifting of COVID restrictions, that they need to really drill down on getting officers back together and getting them trained,” Anderson said.

The shootings also come at a time when tensions are high between police and some of the communities they serve. Trials were underway Friday in two major cases that led to a nationwide reckoning of race and policing in the U.S. — those involving the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

But that tension alone isn’t likely to be fueling waves of violence towards officers, Anderson said, adding that the recent shootings are “really more of a reflection of society as a whole right now.”

“So what can we do? I would urge everybody to just stop and think about that,” he said.

From a police administration perspective, guarding officers with the proper training and equipment is a must, he said. Civilians can also make situations safer by clearly communicating during an emergency call whether a weapon is present or if someone in the household has COVID-19, he suggested.

“One of the things that we know is that when our law enforcement officers are safer, our communities are safer,” he said. “But when our law enforcement officers are at risk, so are our communities.”

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