K.C. police officers become targets in rash of shootings

By John Shultz and Tony Rizzo
The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. Kansas City police officials can't remember a year when so many officers have been shot in the line of duty.

The shooting of two officers Tuesday brings to five the number wounded by bullets this year. None has died, but one injured last week remained hospitalized Friday in critical condition.

The local shootings come amid a nationwide rash of deadly violence against law enforcement officials this year.

Thirty-nine officers were shot and killed across the country during the first six months of the year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. That's a 44 percent jump from the same period last year.

Paired with a similarly stark increase in traffic-related fatalities, the nation's police agencies are on pace to record their deadliest year since the late 1970s when police deaths were far more common, according to the group.

Kevin Morison, a fund spokesman, said his group wasn't charged with examining the root causes. But, he noted, violent crime recently had been reported as rising for the first time this decade.

"With an increase in violent crime overall, it's not hard to assume that there may be an increase in violent crime against police officers," Morison said.

FBI crime statistics, compiled from data provided by a variety of law enforcement agencies, are not available for 2006 or this year, so it's unclear whether other assaults against officers also have risen.

In 2005, about 2,150 police officers were assaulted with firearms. Of those, the injured tallied 195 a number that has remained relatively stable since 1999.

Kansas City police said they did not keep statistics on officers shot. But Police Chief James Corwin said he couldn't remember so many being shot in one year.

The last fatal shooting of a Kansas City officer was in 1983.

The department tracks all forms of assaults on officers, and those numbers have actually dropped in recent years from highs of 40 in 2002 and 36 in 2003. There were 27 in 2004, 16 in 2005, 22 last year and at least 10 so far this year.

David Klinger, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said little could be read into localized, periodic spikes in violence against police.

"Some people will claim that the crooks are getting more desperate or trigger-happy," he said. "What we know is that these spikes come and go around the country ... and that we're not really sure where these things come from."

Klinger said it could be a statistical anomaly. A city could have 12 such incidents a year, but they wouldn't happen once a month, he noted.

"But you could also have something going on where one particular gang has decided it's going to shoot police officers," he said. "That's happened at times all around the country."

That dynamic appeared to be at play in the shootings of three of the five Kansas City officers this year.

The incident Tuesday and one in June involved people who were associated with each other, police said. Those alleged shooters are suspects in violent crimes, including carjacking, robbery and shootings, according to police.

"We're having some luck identifying those groups and getting them off the streets," Corwin said.

Copyright 2007 The Kansas City Star

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