The savage and senseless June 29th murders of Tampa police officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis — both shot and killed on a traffic stop by a petty criminal wanted on a misdemeanor warrant — marked the 87th and the 88th American law enforcement officers killed in the first six months of 2010. This is an increase of 19 LEO deaths compared to the same time last year. The Tampa officers were two of the 30 LEOs killed in gun battles in first six months of 2010.
Although always painful to think about, the mid-year point is a good time to reflect on the stories of our fallen, learn from their sacrifice, and remind ourselves and each other how we can stay safer.
Sometimes, Many Years Hence
New Year’s Day brought word that 63-year-old police officer Maylon “Tommy” Bishop Jr. of Gunterville, Alabama succumbed to injuries he’d received 16 years earlier after being shot during a domestic dispute. Officer Timothy Zurovetz of Forest Hills, Texas died in March, 29 years after suffering catastrophic injuries in a squad car crash while responding to an emergency call. “Heroes Live Forever” but sometimes they suffer a long damn time before they are granted that eternal reward.
On April 6th Army veteran and rookie deputy sheriff Chad Pritchard died in a bizarre accident when he fell into a sinkhole just outside of Standing Stone State Park in Tennessee while he and park rangers were investigating a cold case homicide. He had two months and two weeks on the job. Sgt. Franco Aquilar of the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office in Utah fell to his death a few weeks later while investigating a traffic crash on a snowy bridge.
Seven officers suffered fatal heart attacks, including a 57-year-old chief assisting his officers in tracking a suspect. Two officers — ages 61 and 63 — died of heart attacks after scuffling with arrestees, but three officers well under the age of 40 died of heart attacks shoveling snow, standing on a shooting scene perimeter, and during a foot pursuit. A 42-yearold Marine Corps Base police officer died during physical training, leaving a wife and eight children.
Single Incident, Multiple Officers
Continuing a disturbing trend from 2009, we’ve seen four more single incident/multiple officer killings so far this year. On February 25th Fresno County (Calif.) Deputy Joel Wahlenmaier was shot and killed as he and another deputy assisted the California Fire Marshall’s office in serving an arson warrant. As they approached the suspect’s mobile home, he fired a rifle at the deputies, killing Deputy Wahlenmaier and wounding his partner. Officer Javier Bejar of nearby Reedly, Calif. Police Department responded to an “officer needs assistance” call and was shot and critically wounded immediately upon his arrival. He succumbed to those injuries four days later, on March 1st.
Rangers Kenneth Betancourt and Felix Rodriguez of the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources were shot and killed as they confronted two armed trespassers who had jumped the fence at agency headquarters in the early morning hours of March 20th. The rangers were able to return fire, wounding one of the suspects. The suspects stole a patrol car and gun from one of the rangers and fled but were captured shortly after the incident, thanks in part to a citizen’s telephone tip.
In West Memphis (Ark.), Officer Bill Evans and Officer Brandon Paudert were shot and killed during a traffic stop on May 20th. During the stop, the two male occupants began to struggle with the officers and then opened fire with AK-47s. Both officers were killed in the exchange. The suspects fled to a nearby store, where a gun battle ensued. One suspect was killed by a state wildlife officer, and the other was killed by members of the West Memphis PD. The Crittenden Country Sheriff and Chief of Patrol were seriously wounded in the gun fight.
The Tampa area is still reeling from the murders of Officers Curtis and Kocab, who leave behind a total of five children, one (Officer Kocab’s) born just hours after the officer’s death.
January and June proved to be the deadliest months, with 19 officers losing their lives in each of those months, and we’ve witnessed how random and unexpected LEO deaths can be, with one officer drowning trying to rescue a dog, another hit by a train, one who died in a marine accident, another who was mistaken for game and shot by a hunter and one who accidently shot himself while working on his handgun. Forty one officers died in vehicle-related incidents, many in one-car crashes where they were ejected.
Honor the Fallen
So what can the rest of us learn from these tragic and heroic stories? In the midst of another difficult year for American law enforcement, we must continue to remember the basics. Always be aware of your surroundings and your positioning, be vigilant in your dealings with everyone you encounter, utilize cover/contact. Slow down, wear your seatbelt, be aware of road conditions.
During “routine” traffic stops, warrant services and domestic disputes don’t let yourself become complacent, and if you see a brother or sister officer who is tactically unsound, say something!
Train diligently on the range, on the mats, and in your mind, and help others do the same. You don’t have to be a trainer or a supervisor to influence others — you just need to model safe behavior and you must have the morale courage to speak up. One of the best ways to honor our fallen and our injured is to care enough to help each other stay focused, stay tactical, and stay alive.
As always, stay safe.