What can we do to help keep officers safe?
Thursday, September 17, 2015
As crime has steadily reached a zenith of chaos and ruthlessness, law enforcement officers across the U.S. are now wary of any stranger approaching them, no matter how innocent or innocuous the situation looks. As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, "it's a different world" out there lately for upholders of the law.
The incident in which a police officer was shot to death on Aug. 28 near a Houston gas station has refueled the controversies of police safety mechanisms and how they can be improved. What is even more disturbing is the fact that this was apparently an unprovoked attack. The officer, Deputy Darren Goforth of Harris County, was simply refueling his car when he was shot. It seems to be a case of harboring intense dislike for the police rather than resisting arrest.
The fact that this is just one incident among a spate of killings is a serious matter indeed. Just a few days ago, two police officers were killed in separate incidents in Louisiana, while two more were shot to death in May in Mississippi.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, there have been 87 reported deaths for officers in the line of duty this year, with 26 involving gunfire. Naturally, the police have begun to worry about their own safety after these killings. There was a time when New York was known for its brazen killings and violence, but Goforth's death has shown that the nature of crime has clearly changed even deep in the heart of Texas.
Recent developments in the Goforth case have revealed that suspect Shannon J. Miles has been found mentally incompetent. In 2012, he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in an Austin homeless shelter when he beat another man over something as harmless as a TV remote control.
Miles was caught with enough evidence at the time, but was then found mentally incompetent, and later the evidence was lost. He was free to go, only to result in the death of an officer who was simply pumping gas into his patrol car.
This time, Miles has been charged with capital murder, but already his blank expression and lack of reaction to the proceedings is causing concern. There is speculation that his mental state may help him get away with murder again. His defense team is definitely looking at psychological examination and other forensic evidence to that effect.
The investigation to date has not uncovered any connection between Miles and Goforth. There was no argument or altercation for targeting the deputy. The suspect simply came from behind and opened fire. It seemed more of an unprovoked attack simply because he was a law enforcement officer. To Goforth's fellow officers, this seemed like a coldblooded execution and a result of increasing public antipathy that seems to be growing out of control.
Police officers put their lives on the line for our safety, but the recent bloodshed has a feel of menace and deliberate ambush. This is not simply being killed in the line of duty but more of a deliberate willingness to do harm to those in uniform.
The general public perception of law enforcement has gone through a volte-face change in recent years, and much of it has included animosity, distrust and fear of police. Incidents like last year's shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, have done little to contain this turmoil or skepticism.
The police are routinely vilified by the public and with the help of social media often crucified to a point of no return — fairly or not. This fuels more distrust, and this is expansive because of the nature of social media. These issues definitely need to be addressed, but people must present their demands to the politicians they have chosen to represent them.
Shooting down the men in blue is hardly the answer. As it is, departments around the country are reeling under manpower shortage and lack of resources. If they have to spend whatever resources they have at hand to protect each other, how they can protect the communities they have promised to serve?
One solution to this problem may be better technology in police work. Wearable tech like body cameras, smart clothes, Google Glass, high-end smartwatches and increased use of mobile biometrics will go a long way to ensure officer safety. Environmental and biomonitoring sensors will also supply quicker information on possible hazards and increase their situational awareness.
Body cameras on police officers had an initial aim of keeping bad cops in line, but now it seems that these very gadgets can identify their assailants as well as protect officers from unwarranted claims of brutality and attacks with a deadly force.
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