Herald-Whig View

Families of slain law officers start year in grief; a reason to work harder for peace

Posted: Jan. 6, 2017 2:10 pm

AMBUSH-style slayings in Dallas, Baton Rouge, La., and Canonsburg, Pa., were responsible for a significant and unsettling increase in the number of law-enforcement officers who died in the line of duty last year.

The number of fallen totaled 135, up 10 percent from 2015. The statistics are a sobering reminder of the need this new year to work on police-community relations so that the streets are safer for everyone.

The names of those lost, along with a summary of their deaths and tributes from friends and family, are available at nleomf.org, the website of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. The list includes deaths from various causes, including traffic accidents or heart attacks while on duty, but especially striking is the increase in the number of officers shot to death on the job.

That number -- 64 -- marked a 56 percent increase over 2015. The number of those killed in ambush-style attacks -- 21 -- was the highest in more than 20 years, and the incidents in which multiple officers were killed -- eight claiming 20 lives -- represented one of the worst streaks since 1932.

The first fatally shot last year, the memorial fund reported, was Officer Douglas Scott Barney of the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake, Utah, who was killed Jan. 17 in a shootout while responding to a vehicle crash. The most recent shooting death occurred Dec. 8, when Public Safety Officer Jody Smith of Georgia Southwestern State University succumbed to injuries he suffered while responding to a domestic disturbance the day before.

Receiving the most attention last year were the summer ambushes that claimed five officers in Dallas and three in Baton Rouge and underscored the police-community divide in some communities.

The Dallas shooting followed a rally against recent police-involved shootings; the Baton Rouge incident followed the fatal shooting of a black man, Alton Sterling, by white police. The shooting of Sterling, who was pinned to the ground at the time by police, has triggered a federal investigation.

Canonsburg Officer Scott Bashioum, 52, was ambushed early Nov. 10 as he and a colleague responded to a domestic disturbance. The gunman, Michael Cwiklinski, fired from an upper-story window, striking the officer after he got out of his car. Cwiklinski also killed his pregnant wife, Dalia Sabae, and wounded Officer James Saieva.

The families of the fallen officers begin the new year with loss still weighing heavily on their hearts. It is a pain no one should have to bear, and their grief is a reason to work harder for peace in 2017.