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Law enforcement's recurring nightmare

When a police shooting results in the death of a police officer (or officers), the impact is severe, devastating, and heart-wrenching

Any police chief in the country can inherently understand and empathize with what Limon (Colo.) Police Chief Lynn Yowell, Nassau County (N.Y.) Police Chief Steven Skrynecki, NYPD Chief Raymond Kelly, and Buchanan County (Va.) Sheriff Ray Foster are feeling today. It was only a few weeks ago that St. Petersburg Florida Police Chief Chuck Harmon, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Paul Ciesielski, and Miami-Dade Police Director James Loftus were going through the heart piercing and recent tragic shooting deaths of their officers.

Within a period of 30 days, Chief Harmon’s department suffered the loss of three officers — Sgt. Tom Baitinger, 48, Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz, 39, and Officer David Crawford, 46. “The city has been through hell,” St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said in the aftermath of these back to back killings. “It took 30 years to lose an officer in the line of duty and, within 30 days, it’s happened again,” Chief Harmon said.

Many Too Many Gone
Sgt. Baitinger and Officer Yaslowitz, a K-9 and TAC officer, were shot and killed on January 24, 2011 by a wanted suspect who was hiding in an attic. The suspect led police to believe he was going to surrender but, instead, shot Officer Yaslowitz in the head when he entered the attic and killed his colleague, Sgt. Baitinger, with gun shots that were fired through the attic hitting him below.

Not long thereafter, Officer David Crawford was shot and killed on February 21, 2011 by a 16-year-old suspect, now in custody, when responding to a call for a possible burglary. Crawford was a veteran officer with 25 years on the department and was known to have a knack for dealing with domestic violence cases and helping victims through the criminal justice process. “This killer has taken someone very precious from us. There is a lot of pain,” Chief Harmon said.

In Miami-Dade, Officer Roger Castillo, 41, a 21-year veteran married to a fellow officer and Officer Amanda Haworth, 44, a 23-year veteran, and a single mother, were part of an elite and highly experienced team that worked with the U. S. Marshall’s Service to serve warrants on violent suspects. They were killed on January 20, 2011 while trying to serve an open homicide warrant. Warrant service is notably a very dangerous task despite highly skilled training and years of experience. “The fact of the matter is, our worst nightmare was visited upon us again,” Miami-Dade Police Director James Loftus said.

In Indianapolis, Officer David S. Moore, 29, was a six-year veteran of the department, was killed on January 26, 2011 when he stopped a suspected stolen vehicle. Wearing his bullet proof vest, he was shot four times by the driver of the vehicle in the chest, the thigh, and twice in his face. His mother is a Sergeant on the department, and his father is a retired lieutenant with the department. In the aftermath of his tragic death, the family chose to dedicate a number of his body organs to individuals in need of them. Officer Moore was named “Rookie of the Year” in 2005 and, four years later, received the Medal of Valor for Courage. “David made this city a better place to live,” Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Paul Ciesielski said.

Regardless of what city, state, or department a police shooting occurs, resulting in the death of police officers, the impact is severe, devastating, and heart-wrenching. According to information provided by The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty somewhere in the United States every 53 hours. “I can tell you — cities don’t prepare for this, departments don’t prepare for this,” St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon said.

Extended Family
The grief that accompanies an officer killed in the line of duty is overwhelming to all police officers, but it extends beyond individual police departments or sworn officers. Other members of the criminal justice system — whether sworn or non-sworn personnel — are closely tied to their relationships with law enforcement officers on both professional and personal levels. Those employed in allied agencies work with police on a daily basis in prosecutor’s offices, in the courts, and in the community through outreach efforts. Through their reciprocal goals of public safety and through their interpersonal and professional relationships, unshakeable ties are established that evolve into cemented bonds of camaraderie and friendship.

Individuals who work in the criminal justice system and law enforcement arena do not have to be personally acquainted with a fallen officer to experience the pain, the grief, the sadness, and the emotional devastation that traverse boundaries beyond their agency or jurisdiction. The shared understanding of affiliated goals and the combined efforts of all sectors within the criminal justice system forge an unwavering commitment to standing by one another in good times and bad.

It is important to remember that police officers are people, too. They have feelings, families, and lives separate and apart from their sworn law enforcement duties. They have dreams, plans, and personal goals they want to attain throughout their lives, and they want to enjoy the special moments that accompany them. In their professional lives, they are willing to serve and sacrifice by putting their lives on the line as many of the fallen officers have done.

For those left behind and who grieve the tragic and sad losses that are fresh in the St. Petersburg, Miami-Dade, and Indianapolis police departments as well as other officers in other local, state, and federal agencies who have gone before them, it is vital to memorialize the good deeds, retain the fond memories, and recall the positive ways all these officers touched the lives of others and continue to do so in their memory. There will be many “triggers” that occur — a place, a song, a photo, a memory, an event, to name a few — and they will be accompanied by tears, smiles, and fond recollections. There is no time table for grief, and the process itself is everlasting though it may transform itself in various ways over time.

For those left behind and who grieve the profound losses, the memories of these officers should always serve as an inspiration to touch the lives of others with the epitome of professionalism replete with an unrelenting degree of commitment and dedication. The fallen officers will always be heroes for going above and beyond in their efforts to make communities safer. At the end of their watch, they made the world a better place.

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