One of the sadder statistics to report at year’s end was this — the total number of law enforcement fatalities was at its highest level in five years, in large part because of a spate of ambush-style killings of police officers, the deadliest tally in more than two decades.
The figures, contained in the year-end report of the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, are indeed a sobering way to start the new year — a year in which we all need to think about priorities and about what we value and how to achieve it.
Shootings claimed the lives of 64 officers, 21 of them killed in ambush-style attacks.
Now to put this in perspective, the 135 lives lost in the line of duty are thankfully well below the peak years of the early 1970s when the tally was as high as 280 officers killed on the streets of the communities they had sworn to protect. It was an era before community policing made strides in connecting law enforcement with the neighbors being patrolled.
That, tougher laws, longer sentences for violent crimes — and some demographic shifts (yes, young thugs often get wiser with age, if they live that long) all helped bring that number down.
The other horrifying number to keep an eye on is this year’s murder rate. As of mid-December, numbers compiled by the Wall Street Journal already showed increases in homicides in 16 of the 20 largest police departments. Boston, which boasted a record low 38 murders in 2015 was up to 47 at year’s end — but nothing like the free-fire zone that Chicago has become, where murders topped 750 this year.
And for those looking for a correlation between diminished respect for law enforcement and rising crime rates look no further than Chicago.
Boston is more fortunate, but that takes work — by police earning the respect of the community they serve and by a community that works with, not against them. How’s that for one more New Year’s resolution?
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