The murder of two Hattiesburg, Miss., police officers last week after what appears to have started as a routine traffic stop is a sad reminder of the ever-present danger that law enforcement officers face each day of their professional careers.
For me, it also serves as a reminder of the deaths of local police officers during the many years I have been a journalist in Montgomery.
The Hattiesburg tragedy started Saturday night when Officer Benjamin Deen, 34, stopped a vehicle for speeding and then called for backup. Deen and Officer Liquori Tate, 24, were fatally shot after Tate arrived at the scene to support Deen.
Tragically, officers being killed in the line of duty is a far too common occurrence in the United States.
A newly released report by the FBI shows that 51 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2014. From 1980 through 2014, an average of 64 law enforcement officers have been feloniously killed per year. Seventeen of the officers who died in 2014 as a result of criminal acts were in the South. Nationally, another 44 officers died from accidents that occurred in the line of duty in 2014.
To bring the issue closer to home, the Montgomery Police Department has lost 25 officers in the line of duty since 1886, according to the website Officers Down Memorial Page. Sixteen of those died as a result of gunfire.
For me, the Hattiesburg deaths were most reminiscent of the death of Montgomery Police Officer Keith Houts in 2006. Like the Hattiesburg officers, Houts, 30, was making a traffic stop when he was shot. Houts was first shot in the head. The assailant then shot him multiple times as he lay injured, but those bullets struck his protective vest. He died several days later as a result of his head wound.
In the almost 37 years I have practiced journalism in Montgomery, there have been eight Montgomery police officers who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect this community. Four were killed by gunfire, and four in vehicle crashes.
In addition to Officer Houts, they are:
-- Detective Mary McCord, 25, a Vice and Narcotics detective who was shot and killed while attempting to arrest a suspected drug dealer in 1982. She was the first female Alabama police officer killed in the line of duty.
-- Sgt. James Ward, 38, who was shot and killed in 1994 while chasing two robbery suspects.
-- Officer Willie Henry Pryor, 40, killed in an on-duty motorcycle accident in 1995.
-- Officer Anderson Gordon III, 30, who in 1997 was shot and killed from ambush by a bail jumper.
-- Detective Corporal Kenneth Armstrong, 32, who in 2007 was killed in an automobile accident while responding to a robbery at a convenience store.
-- Officer Josh Broadway, 21, who in 2009 died from injuries sustained in an on-duty traffic accident.
-- Officer David Colley, 24, who in April was killed when his patrol car collided with a truck while he was responding to a call.
Every one of these police officers left behind family and friends, and in most cases, children.
I didn't know any of these officers personally, although I have come to know quite a few police officers during 45 years of reporting and editing. The vast majority of those law enforcement officers appeared to me to be good people -- men and women trying to do the right thing in a challenging and dangerous profession.
However, I'm a long way from my days as a naive cub reporter. I know that there are bad apples in any profession, and that includes law enforcement (and journalism, for that matter). I know that sometimes the power that comes from a badge can attract the wrong kind of people, and that sometimes not enough is done to weed out these bad apples before something tragic happens. I also know that at least some of the anger that has erupted in recent months against police departments is justified.
But it seems to me that our society has to find a way to demand that more is done to eliminate the small percentage of bad apples and to improve policing tactics without at the same time vilifying the vast majority of men and women in law enforcement who are trying to do their best in a challenging and dangerous profession.
Peaceful protests against the few law enforcement officers who violate the trust society places in them are justified. But we also should seek ways to celebrate and honor the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers who do a good job day in and day out.
At the very least, we should never forget those men and women in law enforcement who have given their lives to protect us.
Ken Hare is a longtime newspaper editor and editorial writer who now writes a regular column for wsfa.com. To see a full list of Montgomery police officers who have died in the line of duty, go to the Officers Down Memorial Page at odmp.org.
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