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'Officer down!' The other side of police shootings

Police in the US have come under fire for mistreating and sometimes killing unarmed suspects. But there’s another side to police work: the dangers that often result in the loss of those in law enforcement.

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Slain officer Sgt. Greg Moore's wife Lindy Moore is escorted away from the funeral service at Lake City High School in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on Saturday. Sgt. Moore was shot and killed early Tuesday morning while on patrol.

Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review/AP

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In Hattiesburg, Miss., Saturday night, police officers Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate made a routine traffic stop. Within seconds, they had been fatally shot. The three alleged assailants sped off in the officers’ cruiser, which they ditched. The three – two brothers and a woman, all in their 20s – were arrested at different locations later that night.

Officer Deen, 34, was a K-9 officer who had been named the department’s “Officer of the Year” in 2012. Officer Tate, 25, was a police rookie who had graduated from South Pike High School and attended Southwest Mississippi Community College before joining the Hattiesburg Police Department.

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On his Facebook page last June 11 Officer Tate wrote, “I graduated the Police Academy today. I am now a Police Officer. I would like to thank God, the Police Academy, the Police Department, my family, friends, and love ones.”

Officers Deen and Tate – one white, one black – were the 41st and 42nd US officers to die in the line of duty so far this year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

In 2014, according to the organization, 126 federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial officers were killed, up from 102 in 2013. Firearms-related incidents were the main cause (50, including 15 ambush attacks), followed by traffic-related fatalities (49).

On average, one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty somewhere in the United States every 58 hours. There are more than 20,000 names of such officers inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC, dating back to the first known death in 1791.

In the debate over police conduct today – marked by protests over the deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others killed or otherwise mistreated by officers – such figures can be overlooked. Each represents a story – an individual and a family involved in dangerous work meant to protect the public.

There have been others recently.

Lt. Eric Eslary of the Ligonier Township police in Pennsylvania was killed this past week when a wrong-way driver hit Lt. Eslary’s vehicle head-on. The officer, who had six children, was also a volunteer firefighter.

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At Lake City High School in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Saturday, a funeral was held for Sgt. Greg Moore. He was shot and killed in a traffic stop four days earlier at 1:30 am by a man – Jonathan Renfro – who told investigators he shot Sgt. Moore because he knew the officer would find his weapon.

Mr. Renfro was on felony parole at the time of the shooting, according to local press reports. He had been convicted for grand theft, burglary, and assault on a corrections officer. The encounter was recorded on the officer’s body camera.

Other law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in recent weeks include Deputy Sheriff Gil Datan in Coos Bay, Ore., Officer Michael Villarreal in Pearsall, Tex., Officer Juandre Gilliam in Jeanerette, La., and Trooper Trevor J. Casper of the Wisconsin State Patrol, who was killed in a shoot-out with a suspected bank robber.

On Friday, New York Police Department officer Brian Moore’s funeral was held in a church on Long Island.

Officer Moore died Monday, two days after he was shot in Queens. He and his partner had stopped a man suspected of carrying a handgun when the suspect shot him in the head.

Moore – promoted posthumously to detective – was 25 years old. He first took the police entrance exam when he was just 17, eager to follow his father, uncle, and cousins into law enforcement. He had built up a record of more than 150 arrests and had earned meritorious service medals. 

Busloads of officers arrived from as far away as California, Louisiana, and Chicago for Officer Moore's funeral. As a hearse carried his coffin to the cemetery, they lined up 10 and 20 deep to salute him.

"Brian's death comes at a time of great challenge" for officers nationwide, who are "increasingly bearing the brunt of loud criticism," New York Police Commissioner William Bratton said at the funeral.

"What is lost in the shouting and the rhetoric is the context of what we do," said Commissioner Bratton, his voice cracking. "What is lost is the way we already work together, the ways we get it right…. What is lost is that public safety is a shared responsibility."

Detective Omar Daza-Quiroz had traveled from Oakland, California, to stand in uniform with his colleagues outside the church.

"Right now, it's a tough time in law enforcement," he told the AP. "Sometimes people forget we are human and that we have lives."