Monday, January 3, 2011

For law enforcement officers, there is no such thing as a routine call

Ringing in the New Year is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration. Mere hours into the new year, 2011 took a tragic turn.

A Clark County Sheriff’s deputy, 40-year-old, Suzanne Waughtel-Hopper, died in the line of duty, at the hand of a coward. The veteran deputy and mother of two children was ambushed outside a trailer and killed by a shotgun blast.

Minutes later, another officer, Jeremy Blum of the German Township Police Department was wounded as he, and other officers were forced into a shootout with the suspect, Michael L Ferryman. 

One thing can be learned from this tragedy. Police officers are told from the time they enter the profession, “there is no such thing as a routine call.”

A large number of officers who have given their lives, over the years, have died while on a "routine call" or making a "routine traffic stop."

I have heard and watched many times over the years as people would scoff when a police officer approached a building or a vehicle with his hand on, or near, his gun. Comments range from questioning the officer’s fortitude to remarks about the officer thinking he, or she, is a Matt Dillon or Dirty Harry.

The horrible events of last Saturday paint a clear picture of the dangers faced every time a police officer responds to a call.

There are many things still to be sorted out about the call that ended Deputy Waughtel-Hopper’s life. Yes, the call was shots fired. At this time, we are told that it was believed the suspect had left the area and Waughtel-Hopper was engaged in taking photographs when she was ambushed.

For whatever reason, Waughtel-Hopper may have been caught off-guard. I have seen circumstances that a police officer might face, that would be difficult to survive even if on high alert. Law enforcement officers knowingly enter those conditions as a matter of routine. 

No one is second-guessing Waughtel-Hopper’s actions. I am sure that they will be given a microscopic look in order to potentially save the life of fellow officers so that they might not be caught during future encounters.

What is important for all of us to recognize is that events such as those that took the life of Deputy Waughtel-Hopper should be in the back of the mind of every law enforcement officer, every time he, or she, responds to a call. 

Thankfully, most of the time that an officer responds to a call, it is resolved without, or with minimal, use of force to control the situation. 

I believe that part of the reason for complacency on our part is a general thought that, “we don’t live in New York or Detroit … or Dayton.” 

Hence, when we see a law enforcement officer approaching a vehicle or building, gun in hand, many choose to think, “Why? That sort of thing never happens here.” 

Our local police officers and sheriff’s deputies respond to “shots fired” calls more often that most would believe. More often than not, the “shots” were fireworks, or a car backfiring. Sometimes, especially in rural areas, it is someone firing a gun, but usually for hunting or target practice. 

It is easy to see how, after dozens, even hundreds, of calls that end with no serious crime, an officer could become just a little too relaxed. 

The events of January 1, 2011 at Enon Beach were a harsh lesson that, yes, it can happen here.

I sincerely hope that the tragic death of Deputy Waughtel-Hopper will serve as a reminder to all members of our law enforcement community that there truly is no such thing as a routine call.

I also hope that every time that each of us sees a law enforcement officer doing their job, we remember that they are, indeed, the thin blue line that stands between us and the evil part of our society.

Deputy Suzanne Waughtel-Hopper, may you rest in peace.
Officer Jeremy Blum, we wish you a speedy recovery.

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