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Spate of police officer shootings a sign of the times, sheriff says

January 24, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith
File photo

A gunman opened fire Sunday in a Detroit police station, wounding four officers before he was shot and killed.

A man hiding in the attic of a home in Florida caused a shootout Monday while authorities were trying to arrest him on a warrant. Two police officers were killed and a U.S. Marshal was wounded.

Last Thursday, two Miami-Dade County officers died after a shootout that occurred while authorities were trying to serve a murder warrant on a man, according to www.officer.com, which tracks police shootings. The suspect was fatally shot by a third officer.

Fourteen police officers have been killed this year nationwide, and local authorities said Monday it is hard to determine what is causing the shootings.

Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said he thinks the shootings are a sign of the times, but he believes it is a fluke to have so many in a row.

Mullendore said Monday he was preparing to remind his deputies how to stay safe, like making sure they are cautious when serving warrants.

Mullendore said serving warrants is always a high-risk job because the person being apprehended is about to lose his or her freedom.

“It’s flight or fight. Unfortunately, they sometimes choose fight,” Mullendore said.

The sheriff said there are some departmental policies in place that are designed to protect officers in such situations. One of those policies requires that a minimum of two deputies is used to issue warrants, Mullendore said.

Deputies also are required to wear protective vests, he said.

At the Hagerstown Police Department, a SWAT team is used to serve murder warrants on suspects, an approach that often curbs any trouble, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said Monday.

Police departments in large cities cannot afford to use a SWAT team for every murder warrant that is served, Smith said.

The gunman who opened fire in the Detroit police precinct Sunday came through a front door into an open, unprotected lobby, according to www.officer.com.

Unlike a number of suburban police departments, Detroit precincts don’t have metal detectors and the front desks are not fitted with Plexiglas-type shields, according to the website.

At the Maryland State Police barrack on Col. Henry K. Douglas Drive off Sharpsburg Pike, there is bullet-resistant glass on the building, Lt. Tom Woodward said Monday. There also is an intercom system on the building that allows troopers to communicate with someone outside the barrack to determine what the person might want, he said.

Woodward said he thinks troopers receive adequate training to protect themselves against violence.

Mullendore said he doubts the shootings will result in copycat incidents. People who have warrants out for their arrest “have a propensity for violence in the first place,” Mullendore said.

The number of police officers killed this year is not normal, Steven Groeninger, a spokesman for the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, said Monday.

“It kind of seems like law enforcement, because of their uniform, have a target on their back,” Groeninger said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

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