U.S.

Police Departments Issuing Safety Precautions After Baton Rouge, Dallas

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Officers attend a vigil in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on July 17. Police departments are telling officers to work in pairs and take other precautions following the killings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Jeffrey Dubinsky/REUTERS

As the number of police officers killed in ambush attacks rises in a way that is “shocking and unprecedented in recent history,” as the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund said in a statement, police departments around the country are putting in place measures that they hope will protect their officers.

The Boston Police Department said on Twitter that “in light of the tragedy in Dallas,” its officer patrols would begin operating in pairs. Following the killing of three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Sunday, the department told its officers to use extra caution.

New York City Police Department Commissioner William Bratton told CBS News on Sunday that his department is keeping officers safe by arming them with smartphones that alert them to dangerous individuals. In another CBS interview, he said his plainclothes officers would “for the time being” work in uniform and those in solo patrols would “double up” because of the Dallas and Baton Rouge killings.

“We are in perilous times at the moment,” Bratton told CBS. “We are sailing in unchartered waters, and everywhere we look we’re in harm’s way—not just the police, but the public.”

Thirty-one law enforcement officers have died in gun-related incidents so far this year, a 72 percent increase over the 18 killed at this point last year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit that maintains the national monument to fallen officers in Washington, D.C., and keeps statistics on officer deaths. More cops have died in ambush shootings so far this year than in all of 2015. They were “assassinated because of the uniform that they wear, the job that they do,” Craig Floyd, president and CEO of the Memorial Fund, told Newsweek earlier this month.

Those figures include five officers who were killed in Dallas on July 7 by Micah Johnson, following protests there over the officer-involved fatal shootings of two black men that week, in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

They also include the shooting deaths on Sunday in Baton Rouge of three officers, identified as Corporal Montrell Jackson and Officer Matthew Gerald of the Baton Rouge Police Department, and Deputy Sheriff Brad Garafola of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office. Additional officers were wounded. The gunman was identified as Gavin Long, a U.S. military veteran who also died in the incident.

Unlike earlier killings of police officers, the most recent incidents seem to have been inspired by the anti-cop rhetoric that has been growing since the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, which inspired the Black Lives Matter movement.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown told reporters following the incident there that the suspect “said he was upset about the recent police shootings” and that he had “stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

“If we’re going to spew anti-cop rhetoric, anti-government rhetoric, then we have to realize there could be consequences of the type we saw in Dallas,” Floyd has previously told Newsweek.

And after the Baton Rouge killings, Louisiana State Police Colonel Michael Edmonson said in a press conference, “There is no doubt whatsoever that these officers were intentionally targeted and assassinated. It was a calculated act against those who work to protect the community every single day.”

To be sure, the number of officer deaths has been steadily decreasing since the Prohibition era. Some have argued that it has never been safer to be a police officer. According to FBI statistics, 51 officers were killed in the line of duty in 2014, the year for which the most recent data is available. That is half the number who were killed in 1996, a year the FBI said had the lowest number in 20 years.

Besides those in Boston and New York, other police departments are issuing warnings to their officers. In an email to Newsweek, a Chicago Police Department spokesperson said: “Currently, there is no threat to Chicago, however notifications have been made to CPD officers and we continue to patrol in pairs and in uniform and remain vigilant.”

A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Police Department also tells Newsweek that officers there are now working in pairs.

Police in Washington, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Los Angeles County are also among those now working in pairs, according to The Washington Post. Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier told the Post that she had also called for increased security around police buildings and parking lots and had put extra police on the street during protests.

The New Orleans Police Department told its officers that two squad vehicles must respond to calls instead of just one, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Robert Taylor, a criminology professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, says pairing officers can help make them feel more comfortable short-term but is less effective long-term.

“One-person cars are just as safe as two-person cars,” he says, noting that more than 90 percent of departments use one-person cars. Taylor, who is also a scholar-in-residence at the Caruth Police Institute, a Dallas-based think tank on police strategies, and has consulted with police departments around the country on officer safety, says having one-person cars is more efficient because there are more vehicles patrolling and available to respond to calls. “It’s better to have more one-person cars out on the street than fewer two-people cars,” he says.

Pairing cops for now can be helpful, Taylor says, “just so officers can feel better about their job, so they can feel safer about their job. There are four eyes instead of two eyes when they go into a building. But long-term that’s not the way policing is going to be done in this country.”

He says departments should be telling officers to keep alert and aware. “They need to look at the rooftops, they need to look and see see who’s hanging around before they go into an establishment,” he says. He adds that officers should recall the basics they learned in training, which they may have forgotten about after years of routine calls, and ask the community for help.

But “the sad fact is,” Taylor says, “you can’t protect yourself 24/7, all of the time. If someone is out there to get you, he’s going to get you.”

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