By Kenneth N. Berkowitz November 03, 2016
Yesterday, I woke to the all-too-familiar news that two officers had been ambushed and gunned down overnight. This time in Iowa. Just a few weeks ago, in East Boston, a shootout occurred in which 33-year-old Kirk Figueroa shot two Boston police officers multiple times with a rifle as they responded to a domestic disturbance. Figueroa was wearing a bullet-resistant vest, which suggests that his evil intentions were premeditated.
With a rise in the number and severity of attacks targeting police officers, we need to refocus our attention on this domestic danger. When an attack — however deadly — isn’t related to international terrorism, it can quickly fall off the public’s radar. But there’s good reason to keep it front and center when we talk about the costs and benefits of a free society.
Targeted assassinations of uniformed police officers have long been common in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In the United States and most of the Western world, however, such attacks have been rare and isolated — until now. In the past few years, more and more uniformed police here are being specifically targeted by small arms attacks.
According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, firearm fatalities for police officers have risen 78 percent in the first half of 2016 from the same period last year. Of the 32 police officers killed this year, 14 were the victims of ambush attacks. Unfortunately, the second half of this year has been just as deadly: The number of officers who have been shot and killed in these ambush style attacks is up by 50 percent.
For the first time, officers killed by gunfire are outpacing officers killed in automobile accidents.
Last summer, as race relations nationwide continued to simmer, officer-involved shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota boiled over into public demonstrations. Many of our leaders and media outlets bombarded the country with antipolice rhetoric. That led to more protests, which popped up in virtually every major city in the United States.
During one of these demonstrations in Dallas, 13 police officers were shot because they were wearing blue uniforms and a badge. Five of them succumbed to their injuries, the largest number of police officers lost in the line of duty since 9/11.
A week later in Baton Rouge, La., police received a call from a local shop owner. The caller reported that there was a masked man holding a rifle behind her convenience store. When officers responded, they were immediately under fire. Two officers and a deputy sheriff were fatally wounded.
Ambush attacks have been utilized by many different groups: white sovereign citizens, black nationalists, antiabortion activists, and internationally inspired terrorists. Sometimes attacks are designed to spread a message to supporters on the far left or the far right. But whatever the twisted motivations, they demonstrate to other potential lone wolves and violent homegrown extremists, the ease, low cost, and low level of sophistication needed to successfully pull off these plots.
Unlike for international extremist ideology, there is a distinct lack of law enforcement resources allocated to investigating these domestic individuals and groups. All of the recent ambush shooters have been born and raised in this country, some have even served in the military, which makes the problem that much more complex.
We now live in one of the darkest periods in our history for law enforcement. Make no mistake: With each one of these cowardly attacks, a piece of American freedom is buried alongside every officer. As Americans of every heritage, race, religion, and ideology, we must decide if we want black mourning bands permanently covering our police officers’ badges.
Kenneth N. Berkowitz is the chief of the Canton Police Department and president of the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council.