Updated: May 30
A historic review of officers killed by gunfire
“For those who are in war and battle and on the fighting line, there is no triviality in shaking dice with death. It makes no difference whether a man gets his along with twenty thousand others, or falls on outpost duty all by himself. He is a hundred percent casualty to himself.” - Charles J. Post
The truth is in the research
When I think we are going to hell in a handbasket, I look at history to better assess the situation. When I do, I most often find hope. With Darlene and I being retired police officers, we are alarmed at what seems to be an increase in officers killed by gunfire. Curious, I did some research. Please realize that these statistics do change as new information surfaces or a wounded officer dies. The numbers I reflect in this this blog were taken from the Officer Down Memorial Page (odmp.org) on April 19, 2023. I think you too will be surprised by what I discovered.
In 2022, there were 57 officers killed by gunfire. Fifty years earlier (1972), there were 121 officers killed by gunfire. In 1957, the year my book Heart Shots focuses on, there were 58 such murders. Of them, one was MSP Trooper Dugald Pellot and another was ISP Trooper William Kellems; both were killed by the same criminals, on the same day, but in different states. In fact, on that day these two criminals engaged police in five fire-fights, and because the criminals fired first it can be argued that is why they prevailed in each one. By the sixth confrontation, the police seemed to have learned their lesson and fired first, nearly killing one of their own.
Danger is part of an officer's job
Having begun my police career in 1974, I recognize that ballistic vests and secure holsters have prevented many officers from being killed. Nevertheless, as you have read, you will undoubtedly agree that the job has always been dangerous.
With Darlene being retired from Mesa (AZ) Police Department (founded in 1880) and me having served the Michigan State Police (founded in 1917) and the National Park Service (founded in 1916), we often spar about which department is best. Before I continue, know that Mesa is a city of over a half million with a police department of about 1200 officers, and has its own academy.
One category Mesa PD wins hands down is in line of duty deaths (LODD): a total of two, one to gunfire. I am sad that the Michigan State Police reports 55 LODD, 22 to gunfire, and the National Park Service reports 40 LODD, eight to gunfire. This disparity begs further investigation.
Change is a constant and the police are now under the magnifying glass, as they should be. No profession is perfect and like the practice of medicine and law, police practice law enforcement and should always look to improve. Unlike medicine and law, police often practice it in a toxic and violent environment where split-second life-and-death decisions are made. Such an occupation can be many things: rewarding, heroic, addictive, stressful, depressing, and corrosive.
"Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster. . .
for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you." ~ Friedrich W. Nietzsche
Once again, I am reminded of the porridge in the children’s story Goldilocks and the Three Bears; “Not too hot, not too cold, just right.” I am confident the police profession will evolve to be better if they only accept qualified applicants and do not abandon such things as proactive patrol. Hopefully, they will find “just right.”
Measuring the effect of proactive police work
Like preventative medicine, it is difficult to measure the effect of proactive police work. With what seems to be a prevailing critical view of police across our great nation, I suspect most officers now shy away from proactive patrol. A person might consider it a reason that crime rates are increasing. When you read Heart Shots, you learn that an undetected nationwide crime spree was unmasked because of proactive patrol. Trooper Vogel would be shot three times and left for dead for his actions. Although he would survive, he would forevermore be “stained by darkness,” now known as PTSD. These days I wonder if Trooper Vogel would have even stopped the car, let alone act on clues of criminality afoot. He would have been paid the same to have done nothing.
"Other than random attacks, all such cases begin with the decision of a police officer to do something, to help, to arrest, to inquire. If the officer had decided to do nothing, then no force would have been used. In this sense, the police officer always causes the trouble. However, it is trouble which the police officer is sworn to cause, which society pays him to cause and which, if kept within constitutional limits, society praises the officer for causing." Plakas v Drinski, 19 F. 3d 1143 (7th Circuit 1994)
Support for the "always dangerous" profession
Could we stop the pendulum in the middle? A place where most good citizens would think the porridge to be “just right.” Wishful thinking. As George Orwell pointed out, “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
On this National Police Week 2023, as police officers continue an “Always Dangerous” profession, let us give them our support forevermore.