I was teaching an officer safety class the other day when my partner brought up the Officer Down Memorial Page. We always emphasize signing up for their email updates and visiting the page daily to honor our fallen and learn from their sacrifice. To my dismay, several of the students said they had stopped receiving ODMP’s “fallen officer” updates because they found it “too depressing.” Here on Officer.com they post the LODD page: Line Of Duty Deaths. For some I imagine that’s equally depressing but it’s important to be aware of, remember and honor the fallen.
When any one of us hears about a fellow officer’s death we are forced to face our own mortality, and its human nature to try and avoid something as uncomfortable as another person’s demise. However, I’m going to ask each of you to put aside any hesitations and reflect on the first three months of this current year and the twenty six American police officers who have fallen in the line of duty.
Twelve days into the New Near, Montgomery County, TN deputy David “Bubba” Johnson was on solo patrol in an area he knew extremely well when his patrol car left the roadway and struck a tree, killing him. Deputy Johnson, who had previously served as an emergency medical technician and a city police officer, was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the crash.
On January 14th Agent Carlos Rivera-Vega of the Puerto Rico Police Department’s Mayagüez Drugs Division was shot in an unprovoked attack at a housing complex by a man who had approached officers on foot, questioning them about their investigation. Agent Rivera-Vega succumbed to his wounds seven days later. On that same day, Detective Sergeant Tom Smith of the Bay Area Rapid Transit PD was accidentally shot and killed during a warrant service at the suspect’s apartment.
Two days later, Washita County, OK Undersheriff Brian Beck and Officer Kristian Willhight of the Burns Flat, OK police department collided at an intersection during Beck’s pursuit of a fleeing felon he was attempting to arrest. Neither officer was wearing a seat belt, both were killed. On January 26th Jefferson County, CO Sergeant David Baldwin was killed when his police motorcycle was struck head on by a driver attempting to illegally pass another vehicle. The next day Animal Control Officer Eddie Hamer of Hardeman County, TN was killed in a one-car crash while responding to a call. He was also a reserve police officer.
Utah County, UT sheriff’s deputy Cory Wride encountered what he called in as an abandoned vehicle on January 30th. He was ambushed and fatally shot before he could even get out of his patrol vehicle. The following day in Greensville County, VA Deputy Percy House was responding to a traffic crash when his patrol car slid on the ice and plunged into a nearby creek, killing him. In the first 31 days of 2014 a total of nine law enforcement officers died in the line of duty.
On February 11th Orange County, FL deputy Scott Pine was shot and killed by a fleeing car burglar in a gated community. On February 16th, the first correctional officer of the year was strangled to death by a 15 year old inmate in the Scotts Bluff County, NE Detention Center. C/O Amanda Baker was 24 years old. The next day California Highway Patrol officers Brian Law and Juan Gonzalez were riding together in the same patrol car responding to a traffic crash that had been incorrectly reports to be in the opposite direction. As they came upon the actual crash they were forced to swerve to avoid a victim in the roadway, striking the guard rail and killed both officers. Four police officers died in three separate incidents within 7 days of each other in the month of February.
March has been the most deadly month so far this year, beginning on March 3rd with the death of veteran Phoenix, AZ detective John Hobbs of PPD’s Fugitive Apprehension Team. Det. Hobbs and another member of the team were pursuing a wanted felon when the suspect opened fire on the officers, striking both of them. Detective Hobbs was able to return fire, striking the shooter, but Hobbs later succumbed to his injuries at the hospital. Detective Hobbs was not wearing his body armor. Four days later LAPD Officer Nick Lee was responding to a call when his patrol car collided with a commercial vehicle, killing him and critically injuring his partner.
On March 10th Agent Joaquin Correa-Ortega of the Puerto Rica PD was conducting an undercover arms purchase when he and another officer were fired upon. Agent Correa was killed and his partner was seriously wounded. On March 12th US Forest Service Officer Jason Crisp and his K-9 “Marcos” were assisting with the search for a murder suspect in Burke County, NC. The suspect was located and a firefight ensured, killing Officer Crisp and Marcos. Marcos is one of 5 police K-9’s to die in the line of duty so far this year.
Officer Marc Kelley of the Trinity University Police Department in Texas died of a heart attack responding to a campus fire alarm on March 14th. He was 41 years old. On March 17th Chief Deputy Pete Richardson of Lafayette County, LA was killed in a three car crash while transporting a homeless man who grabbed the steering wheel, causing the crash. The same day Officer Jim Morrissy of the Oak Forrest, IL police department died in a crash while responding to back up another officer during a domestic dispute. Two days later Deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino of Mendocino County, CA was ambushed, shot and killed by a suspect wanted for kidnapping.
On March 22nd, Florida police officer Robert German of Windermere was investigating two suspicious persons where he was shot and killed by one of them. The suspect later committed suicide. On March 24th Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Mark Mayo was fatally shot aboard the USS Mahan docked at Pier 1 at the Norfolk Naval Station by a suspect who had boarded the ship without authorization and then disarmed the petty officer who initially confronted him.
The final day of March 31, 2014 proved to be a deadly one for law enforcement. New Bern, NC police officer Alexander Thalmann, only 22 years old, died from a gunshot wound he received while interviewing a suspect he had approached on a bicycle. Officer David Smith was also shot and killed after responding to a disturbance call in Johnson City, NY, and Plymouth, MA motor officer Gregg Maloney was involved in a serious traffic crash. He succumbed to his injuries the following day, the 26th American police officer to be killed in 2014.
Twelve vehicle related incidents, one heart attack, one strangulation, one accidental gunshot wound and eleven felonious shootings. The youngest officer killed was 22 years old, the oldest was 62.
We are always searching for trends in police officer deaths, asking ourselves what could have been done differently, how could these deaths have been prevented. More training? Better equipment? Improved communication? The answer is yes to all of these questions and more. We’ve got to renew our “Not Today” mindset on every call. Always wear your vest, never fail to buckle up, slow down driving to calls, don’t allow yourself to be distracted.
At the beginning of every shift, regardless of assignment, we need to honor those who sacrificed by learning from them, telling their stories, and never forgetting those they left behind.
The Officer Down Memorial Page www.odmp.org
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial www.nleomf.org