By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is preparing to review a rash of deadly attacks on police following the fatal shootings of 10 officers since Jan. 1.
Bernard Melekian, the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services director, said analysts would study whether deficits in training, resources or officer behavior may have contributed to a troubling series of violent attacks in at least five states.
“I think it is too early to tell if there is an underlying theme here,” Melekian said Tuesday. “The fact is that police work is an inherently dangerous business; very often you don’t know where the danger is coming from.”
The Justice review comes after two officers were shot to death in St. Petersburg, Fla., Monday while police in Miami were mourning the murders of two officers there.
“I have never seen anything like it,” said Craig Floyd, chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which closely tracks officer deaths. “We must do everything in our power to stop these senseless and heinous crimes against our law enforcement personnel,” he said in a statement.
The January shootings follow a year in which overall police deaths increased 40% from 2009, including a 20% spike in the number killed by gunfire.
Less than a week before the end of the month, the 10 firearm-related police deaths mark the third-highest January total in the past 20 years, according to the police memorial fund.
“Coming off 2010, my gracious, it’s a really bad way to start a new year,” said Mark Marshall, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Marshall, the police chief in Smithfield, Va., said the association is just beginning to assemble a national database, tracking assaults on police that result in serious injury and death.
The database, part of the Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police, will be used to help determine whether new training or resources are needed to better deal with violent confrontations.
“Clearly, there must be some common denominators out there,” Marshall said. “If we can identify some of them, we can do some good, even if it means one less officer is killed. This is of great concern to us.”
In recent years, police officials, including former Miami police chief John Timoney, have identified several factors contributing to the violence. Among them:
•More desperate offenders who are increasingly willing to target police.
•Officers’ inconsistent use of body armor. Some, including the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association, have suggested that up to half of all police do not wear armor regularly.
•Offenders’ access to high-caliber weapons.
“In some of these recent shootings in St. Petersburg, Miami and Detroit, it seems like these people were ready and willing (to target police),” Marshall said.
Four officers were wounded Sunday in Detroit when a gunman entered a neighborhood police precinct station and opened fire.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank, said many of the violent encounters have pitted police against high-risk offenders being sought by police in more focused efforts to combat crime in their communities.
“In these high-risk encounters, we need to take a hard look at how police are approaching these situations,” Wexler said.
In the Detroit attack, officers barely had a chance to respond. Police Sgt. Eren Stephens said the gunman, Lamar Moore, entered the station at 4:25 p.m. and began blasting away with a shotgun.
Two of the four wounded officers remain hospitalized. Moore, the subject of a sex crime investigation at the time, was killed in an exchange of gunfire.
In the aftermath of the attack, Stephens said metal detectors and or officer-screeners have been positioned at the entrances to all nine police buildings in the city as a precaution.
“We really don’t know (what drove Moore to attack),” Stephens said.
Melekian said he hopes the Justice Department review of the shootings will be instructive.
“We’d like to produce a document about what occurred that addresses the issues of training, equipment and the state of mind of the officers,” Melekian said.
“A lot of what happens is in the hands of the suspect. As an officer, you don’t know who you’ve talked to today who could have killed you but decided not to.”