OPINION

US Police Officers Endangered as Criminals Capitalise on Social Unrest Over Floyd Death, Ex-Cops Say

St. Louis police officer Tamarris Bohannon, a 29-year old father-of-three, died on 30 August after being critically wounded in the line of duty a day earlier. Retired law enforcement officers and academics have discussed growing social tensions in the US and increasing risks law enforcement agents are now facing.

The African American officer was ambushed while responding to a call of a shooting near Tower Grove Park in south St. Louis last Saturday while another policeman was injured in the leg, according to St. Louis Metropolitan Police.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we report that our critically injured officer has died”, says a police department Twitter statement. “We cannot express how much we appreciate the hospital staff who continuously treated both officers for their injuries. Thank you all for your continued thoughts & prayers!”

​Eight St. Louis officers have been shot in the line of duty since 1 June, according to the department’s chief Col. John Hayden. Bohannon is the first one killed on duty since 2011.

Pandemic, Racial Tensions, & Political Uncertainty

“When I heard the news of Officer Tamarris L. Bohannon, a young officer, in fact, just 29 years of age and he had only been with the police department there in St. Louis for three and a half to approximately 4 years, my heart was in pain”, says Kalfani Ture, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Quinnipiac University and former police officer. “And the reason why is because Tamarris just like myself as an African American male and as an African American police officer I imagine or I want to imagine that he joined the forces as I did to make a difference”.

​Ture does not rule out that Bohannon was the a victim of a set up: “There was a call that shots were fired or that someone was shot and he as a first responder went to the scene to give aid and assistance, to preserve life but then he and the other officer were attacked”.

Touching upon the reasons why Bohannon was purportedly ambushed, the professor suggests that it could have happened because he was African American and a police officer. According to Ture, law enforcement agents are now “out-weaponed” by individuals, who have equal or if not far better weaponry, and “policing in a society where things are ever so more desperate”.

“There is more tension between White citizens and Black citizens. And then there is the sort of convergence of this pandemic. And then we have political uncertainty at the national and local levels”, he says, also emphasising “greater inequities, structural inequalities, structural racism in society” which the US has “to find a way to resolve”.

‘We Need to Support Police Officers Doing Right Thing’

Everyday challenges that an officer faces are tremendous, acknowledges Dr Darrin Porcher, a retired NYPD lieutenant and criminal justice expert, emphasising that an attack on law enforcement is in fact an attack on all of society.

“We need our elected officials to coalesce behind a strategy that can make us safer as a society”, he opines. “Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened. As a result of that, we lost an officer, and it’s something that we need to really go back to – the tell-tale signs and the teachable moments of the past and ask what we can do better in connection with us being a safer and more tranquil society”.

Porcher laments the fact that instances of violence have considerably soared in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, an African American male, in custody in late May 2020 and subsequent nationwide protests which were accompanied by violence, arson, and looting in a number of states.

There’s a difference between a constitutionally-protected protest that falls within the purview of the First Amendment and riotous behaviour, the retired NYPD lieutenant highlights.

“I think the reason why it’s on the rise is many criminals feel they can act with impunity, because they are capitalising on the social unrest in connection with the death of George Floyd”, he opines. “I’m not looking to conflate what happened with the officer’s death with the protests that have been plaguing America since the death of George Floyd, however, we have to understand: from a universal perspective, the violence is something that needs to stop”.

​The attack on Officer Bohannon is a dreadful incident amid unfolding violence, echoes Chris Phillips, a former senior British police officer, a fellow of the Security Institute and the Chartered Institute of Security and Crisis Management, calling law enforcement officers “the backbone of society” and “the glue that holds society together”.

Phillips argues that police officers “really need to be protected”: “I know for a fact that police officers are now much more scared than others and probably because of the overreaction that we’ve seen across the US”, he says. “So, we need to support them doing the right thing”.

According to statistics released by the FBI in May 2020, 89 police officers were killed in line-of-duty incidents in 2019. Some 48 officers died as a result of felonious acts, and 41 officers died in accidents. In 2018, a total of 106 police officers lost their lives with 55 officers being feloniously killed and 51 dying accidentally. The average age of murdered law enforcement agents was 37.

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