I remember drinking coffee on a Saturday morning in January 2011 while reading the Officer Down Memorial Page website. It seemed like officers around the country were dying nearly every day that month. I hadn’t seen that rate of L.E. deaths in some time and I wondered what was going on. 10 police officers were gunned-down that month, along with eight others killed by other means. It was a terrible start to the year. As 2011 continued, the deaths rose to a level over and above the past few years. Pro law enforcement pages and Facebook groups started using terms like “war on police” and spoke of the rise in violent attacks as if it was unprecedented. It was a bad year compared to the few years prior to 2011.
2011 would turn out to be the worst year on record for violence against our department when three officers were shot on August 2, 2011, leaving two dead and a third seriously injured. On January 10, 2012, our officers pursued a wanted felon from Wyoming and when his vehicle was disabled by tire-deflation devices, he came out firing. Officers returned fire, critically wounding him. On March 6, 2012, officers chased a van-load of thugs on a crime-spree, who at some point thought it would be a good idea to fire at officers with a realistic-looking CO2 BB pistol. Police returned fire and no one was hit – thank goodness. So, what is going on? Is it a trend? I say no.
First of all, in 2011 there were 75 law enforcement officers murdered in the U.S. (up from 56 in 2010) but it was not the worst year on-record for law enforcement deaths. The worst year was 1973 when 134 officers were killed in the line of duty. Think about that for a minute: There were 100 million fewer people in the U.S. and approximately half the number of law enforcement officers as today, yet more officers were murdered nearly 40 years ago than any other time in history. Again, why? Consider this: advancements in training, technology, intelligence, emergency medical treatment, weapons and weapon restraint systems and protective equipment have contributed to the decrease in law enforcement deaths over the years. It makes sense. We have learned through the blood of our fallen brothers and sisters and frankly, as an industry, it has never been safer to be a law enforcement officer in the United States. Two and a half months into 2012 and the law enforcement deaths are down 50% from last year at this time. Conclusion: 2011 was a rough year, not the start of a terrible trend.
The three police shooting incidents in Rapid City in the last seven months are alarming but are they tied together in any way? The August 2011 incident involved a semi-homeless man with a violent record and nothing to lose. He was bent on self-destructive behavior. The January 2012 incident involved a wanted drug addict running from the law who found himself cornered. And in March, the five young adults on a theft, robbery and burglary spree were likely a conglomeration of bad environment, bad training, bad decisions and bad character. The point is – there are few, if any, common denominators between the three incidents. They are, in my opinion, simply three incidents that are linked most obviously by their placement on the calendar and nothing else.
Now for the touchy point: All three incidents occurred in North Rapid City. Doesn’t this link them together? No. The August incident originated and finished in North Rapid City. The January incident originated in South Rapid City and ended in North Rapid City. The March incident originated on the North side, continued in the south side and ended back in the north side. None of these incidents were gang violence related to turf. None were neighborhood disputes. None were specifically linked to an area of town, although the perpetrator from the August incident lived in North Rapid so his contact with police was more likely to be in that area of town. North Rapid City didn’t cause these problems.
On a final note, there is some evidence that bad behavior toward police may be on the rise in Rapid City but the information is preliminary and no conclusions can be drawn from the information. The chart below shows the number of arrests by the RCPD over a six-year period for the crimes of resisting arrest, obstructing law enforcement and threatening a law enforcement officer or their family:
The chart below shows us the rate of arrests for both simple and aggravated assaults against the RCPD, as well as “sliming” assaults where the suspect throws bodily fluids at or on the police officer.
As you can see, there appears to be an upward trend in sliming and simple assaults on officers while aggravated assaults on officers are steady over the last five years. There is reason to be concerned, but there are many variables that prevent us from drawing a conclusion at this time. One of the variables is the fact that the simple assault on law enforcement was a new law in 2005. Sliming is a relatively new law as well. The chart displays simply raw numbers without analysis.
My best advice is this: We continue to train and prepare for the inherent threats of our profession while we analyze the data that is available to us. We compare this to nationwide data and look for trends and best practices among our sister-agencies throughout the U.S. We do everything we can to keep our employees and the public safe while maintaining a positive working relationship with the community. We remember our fallen comrades and the sacrifice they made for all of us. And finally, we continue to believe the benefits of public service and public safety outweigh any risks we may encounter.