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A crime and a loss beyond expression

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Nov. 29, 2009 at 6:59 pm |
November 29, 2009 6:59 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Shock. Sympathy. Anger.

Such words hardly describe the depth of what citizens – and the staff of this newspaper – felt Sunday after hearing that four Lakewood police officers were gunned down in a Parkland coffee shop.

Maybe the shock is a good place to start. In Pierce County, deliberate killings of police officers have been rare. Prior to Sunday, only four had occurred over the last 30 years. In each case, a single officer died. Suddenly, four officers – Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold, Greg Richards and Sgt. Mark Renninger – are dead in a single day.

Four officers, one shooting. There’s no precedent in state history, and only a few precedents in the nation’s history. Officers aren’t told this nearly enough, but the vast majority of citizens cherish them, respect them and deeply appreciate the risks they willingly incur protecting the innocent from the violent and the predatory. The killing of one of these valiant professionals rips a terrible wound in any community. The killing of four leaves us reeling.

It’s not just that they were killed; it’s that they were apparently killed for no other reason than they were officers. When officers are murdered in the line of duty, it is usually because they are trying to arrest a criminal or stop a crime in progress. They are killed in the heat of action, because they are in the way.

This looks like a different kind of killing. The four Lakewood officers had casually gathered, doing paperwork. The killer appears to have deliberately stalked them, singling them out solely because of the shields they wore. No one else at the scene was harmed.

Just a few weeks ago, Seattle Officer Timothy Brenton was singled out and gunned down by a cop-hater. Such killings rank – with the murder of children and a handful of other atrocities – as the most outrageous of crimes.

The surviving loved ones of these officers deserve the sympathy of every citizen. Yes, families understand the perils of these jobs. But spouses, children and parents don’t expect the officers they love to be executed, mob-style, while seated peacefully in a coffee shop. No one – officer or family – signed up for this.

As of this writing, the killer has not been found. Many angered citizens are hoping out loud that police will shoot the suspect rather than arrest him. But it’s safe to assume that the police will – as they do routinely – use the minimum possible force. If possible, they will take the suspect into custody unharmed, read him his legal rights and book him safely into jail. That professionalism, multiplied fourfold, is part of what we lost Sunday. The loss, inexpressible, cannot be made good.

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