Spike in gun-related officer deaths a concern in local law enforcement

Published: Mar. 2, 2016 at 8:54 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 12, 2016 at 10:10 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The Officer Down Memorial recently shared statistics for 2016 showing officer gunfire deaths have spiked so far this year.

While overall line of duty deaths are down 6 percent, Officer Down has tracked gunfire deaths up 1,200 percent.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers' Association was quick to share the statistics on its social media pages.

"The recent spike in law enforcement officers killed by gunfire is alarming and unacceptable. Law enforcement officers understand they are in a dangerous profession however they increasingly feel under attack and targeted.  It is important that the public understands that police officers are human. They are husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters who live in the cities they patrol and share the common goal of safe place to live and raise a family," Executive Director Ryan Alphin said in a statement.

"Law enforcement in South Carolina recognizes there is still significant work to do to bridge the gap between the police and the community. I see that gap shrinking every day as departments across this State work with community leaders to bring positive change. It is only through those partnerships that we will see safer and stronger communities."

While South Carolina hasn't experienced officer gunfire-related deaths this year, local departments are concerned.

"It's been extremely tough on law enforcement professionals," Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster said. "Not only from a concern of violence against an officer but also for the rhetoric against police."

During his 40-year career, Foster says he's seen the atmosphere surrounding those who work in law enforcement rise and fall. While he says it's not the only time law enforcement's faced conflict with the community, he says it's the most dangerous.

"It certainly makes you more cognizant that the job we do is extremely dangerous. We have to be aware that we work in a more hazardous environment. However, we can't forget that we are a civilian law enforcement agency. And in that regard, we can't automatically be on guard with everything. You do have to work to mitigate problems, but you do have to be very aware of the dangers that an officer faces," Foster said.

According to numbers from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, there were 48 officer-involved shootings in 2015. That's up from 42 the year before. And in both 2014 and 2015, one shooting left an officer dead.

Foster agrees with SCLEOA that there is a bridge to gap between law enforcement and the community, but he says there's no quick fix.

"Quite frankly it's kind of like turning a big ship around. You can't just turn it around on a dime. You know, it takes a little bit to get it turned around. I can assure people that we are, as a law enforcement profession, looking at a lot of facets. The governor has commissioned a group of people to the advancement of public safety in South Carolina. A lot of work is being done," said Foster.

Foster says many of the details of that work are being kept quiet for now, so that those involved can make sure it's done right.

At the end of the day, he says the goal is to better train officers so that they can bridge the gap while finding ways to stay safe.

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