SPOKANE, Wash. – It has been a deadly year across the country when it comes to officers killed in ambushes.
Two Spokane Police officers were ambushed in their patrol car while responding to a domestic violence incident in North Spokane at the end of November. The officers were in their patrol car when the suspect began shooting. Those officers are okay. The suspect was shot and killed.
Law enforcement ambushes are not specific to just Spokane. It is happening around the nation as well. A suspect shot and killed an officer in San Marcos, Texas, while the officer served a warrant on Monday. Law enforcement said the suspect shot the officer multiple times in an ambush style attack. On Wednesday, a police escort carried the officer's body to a funeral home.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said you only have to look at the number of officers ambushed nationwide in 2016 to know officers are increasingly at risk while doing their jobs.
"In 2016, it was the highest year since the 1970s of officer ambushes and deaths," Knezovich said.
According to data released by the FBI, 118 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2016. Of those killed, 66 died because of criminal acts and 52 died in accidents. Of the 66 killed as a result of felonious acts, 13 were answering disturbance calls, nine were investigating suspicious persons/circumstances, and 17 were ambushed.
"Some people do not want to accept that reality, but that is the reality,” Knezovich explained. “2016 was the deadliest year when it comes down to ambushes of police officers since the 1970s.”
With officer ambushes happening more often, Knezovich said training for law enforcement is more important than ever. That is why the sheriff's office provides training that deals specifically with ambushes.
"We continue to train toward those types of scenarios. What happens if this starts taking place? You have an interesting dynamic, now that more and more people are calling, we roll into the area and suddenly we are the target, so we have to be very mindful of how we respond to an area," Knezovich said.
Knezovich said deputies are trained to be hyper vigilant, pay attention to their surroundings, and to constantly scan their environment. He said the issue of officer safety not only impacts law enforcement, but the community as well.
"This has bled into the safety of everybody, the people that we protect. We need to be able to respond and we need to get there and be able to resolve these issues, but we do not have the staffing in the unincorporated areas of Spokane county to rapidly respond," Knezovich said.
For deputies in the unincorporated parts of Spokane County, backup can be 30 to 40 minutes away. Knezovich said it is not uncommon for a deputy to have to respond alone to a domestic violence call. That is why he said more staffing would help increase safety for everyone.
“Take a look at the homicide rate in Spokane County, roughly 75 percent of our homicides are domestic violence related. So, if these DVs are relating to 75 percent of the homicides, translate that into the risk factor of the deputy responding to that type of call," Knezovich explained.
The Sheriff said he had one of his trainers review every critical incident to look for ways deputies can respond better and more safely. He said officer training is probably one of the best tools they have to increase the chances that an officer will go home safely at the end of their shift.