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A salute to our fallen law officers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 150 law enforcement officers made the ultimate sacrifice during the past year. This means that, on average, one law officer was killed somewhere in America nearly every other day. If history is our guide, another 56,000 officers were assaulted by criminals, resulting in about 17,000 injuries.

Yet, despite these incredible dangers, we are indeed very fortunate to have more than 800,000 federal, state and local law enforcement professionals serving and protecting us. Too often we take their service and their sacrifice for granted. We forget that while we are home with our families during the holidays, our law enforcement officers are patrolling the streets of our communities to keep us safe. We forget that extraordinary work performed by our law enforcement officers is the main reason we have not had another terrorist attack here at home since 9-11. We forget that as violent crime plummeted over the past decade, more than 1,600 law enforcement officers sacrificed their lives in the name of public safety.

A police officer never knows when that life-threatening moment may come, but they know that it could come on the very next call, and they handle it with amazing courage and selflessness. For Fairfax County (VA) Detective Vicky Armel and Master Police Officer Michael Garbarino that moment came on May 8 when a crazed gunman launched a cold-blooded ambush attack in their police station parking lot. Both Detective Armel and Officer Garbarino took heroic actions to end the bloodshed and save other officers' lives, while sacrificing their own.

On March 1, New York State Trooper Andrew J. Sperr was investigating a bank robbery when he spotted the getaway car and was shot and killed while attempting to make the arrest. On May 11, Roane County (TN) Deputy Sheriff William B. Jones was attempting to serve felony arrest warrants on two men wanted on assault charges when the suspects opened fire as he pulled into their driveway. Deputy Jones and a civilian ride-along were both shot more than 40 times and killed.

While these incidents clearly point to the dangers when confronting violent criminals, the greatest threat to our law officers in 2006 was on our roadways. In fact, of the 151 officers who died in the line of duty during the past year, 73 were killed in traffic-related incidents. This was the ninth straight year that traffic-related incidents claimed the lives of more officers than shootings (54) or any other cause of death. Chasing down fleeing felons, responding to emergency calls for help, or even conducting a traffic stop or assisting at an accident scene can put our officers in tremendous peril; further proof that a law officer is always at risk, no matter how seemingly routine or benign an assignment might appear.

As we continue to fight the war on terror abroad, we are also fighting it here at home; and with recent reports of a surge in violent crime, now more than ever we depend on our law enforcement professionals to protect us. The officer fatality figures for 2006 are a shocking reminder of the sacrifices being demanded of our law enforcers at this critical time.

With so much at stake and so many lives at risk, we must ensure that law enforcement continues to receive the manpower, training and equipment resources necessary for our officers to perform their jobs not just effectively, but safely. We also owe our officers, and their families, one more thing — a huge debt of gratitude.

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