Cops put their lives in peril

The following editorial appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Jan. 12:

The FBI and local authorities continue to investigate whether last week’s attempted assassination of a Philadelphia police officer was a terrorist attack. No matter their conclusion, it won’t change the inherent danger of being a police officer in cities where the threat of violence is constant.

Officer Jesse Hartnett was in his patrol car at 60th and Spruce on Thursday night when a man wearing a long, white tunic and wielding a 9mm Glock fired more than a dozen shots at him. Three of the bullets hit and fractured Hartnett’s arm, but he managed to return fire and wound the suspect, who ran away but was later apprehended.

The man arrested in the attack, Edward Archer, reportedly told police, “I pledge my allegiance to the Islamic State, and that’s why I did what I did.” No doubt Islamic State would be happy to take credit for another fear-inspiring attack on a symbol of American authority. Such is the nature of today’s terrorist groups, which are as satisfied with inspiring violence as they are with orchestrating it.

That includes violence committed by individuals whose mental state may have a bearing on acts they link to a particular ideology. Archer’s mother, Valerie Holliday, told The Inquirer that her son had “been acting kind of strange lately … talking to himself” and “hearing voices.”

His assault joins a number of recent shootings that have raised the public’s awareness of cops’ vulnerability. Police Commissioner Richard Ross says all Philadelphia officers will pair up on patrol as a precautionary step until the apparent risk dissipates. That makes sense given a tipster’s claim that associates of Archer may be plotting more attacks on police.

It is important, however, to put in perspective the possibility that police officers in Philadelphia and elsewhere are being targeted by terrorists or — if you believe right-wing pundits — adherents of the Black Lives Matter movement. Data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund show 42 fatal shootings of police officers last year, a 14 percent drop from 2014.

Does that mean there’s no need for police officers to worry when they put on their uniforms and enter situations that could, as in Officer Hartnett’s case, unexpectedly and inexplicably become violent? No, it doesn’t. They must always be on guard. But the fund’s numbers do suggest that much of today’s “war on cops” rhetoric is politically calculated and disconnected from reality.

There’s no need to exaggerate the dangers that police officers face every day. Their willingness to protect and serve even when it means putting their lives in danger is worthy of praise, not political exploitation.


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