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Cops reacted with honor to killings of their peers

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Nov. 27, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
November 26, 2010 5:27 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

A year after the slaughter of four Lakewood officers in a Parkland coffee shop, the law has seen some big improvements.

The Legislature and voters amended the Washington Constitution to let judges deny bail to defendants facing possible life sentences – as Maurice Clemmons faced even before he killed Mark Renninger, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards.

And Washington officials have negotiated far tougher procedures in the Interstate Compact on Adult Offender Supervision, whose loopholes allowed Arkansas to export Clemmons to Washington without much warning – then cancel its own warrant for his extradition.

But one thing doesn’t appear to have changed: the professional restraint of Puget Sound police officers.

Officers in the region’s various jurisdictions have shot suspects – including Clemmons himself – in the aftermath of the cop-killings a year ago. Some have suspected them of being quicker to defend themselves with deadly force after seeing four of their fellow cops gunned down in the Parkland café and two more killed in separate incidents.

But that’s selective perception. Officers were using force – with justification and occasionally without – before Clemmons. They haven’t become trigger-happy since then.

An analysis by The News Tribune’s Stacey Mulick shows that the use of force has increased in some jurisdictions and decreased in others, pretty much as might happen in any year.

If a law enforcement agency had reacted in anger or fear, it would logically have been the Lakewood Police Department. But there hasn’t been a single police shooting in Lakewood in the first 11 months of 2010.

Over the 12 months since the Lakewood officers were killed, the total use of any kind of police force has fallen dramatically to 99 – from 151 the previous 12 months and 157 the 12 months before that.

If anything, the Lakewood police might be accused of over-correcting for any temptation to do their jobs differently.

In neighboring Tacoma, police shootings doubled, to four so far in 2010. But the total use of police force in the city has fallen by more than half.

Pierce County sheriff’s deputies saw one of their own, Kent Mundell, shot to death near Tanwax Lake last December. Yet the number of shootings and other uses of force have remained within the normal range of recent years.

With the few inevitable exceptions, the region’s police officers appear to have responded to last year’s killings by keeping their emotions in check, acting with restraint and doing their jobs the way they were trained to. It’s safe to say that many civilians – who aren’t subject to the same training and psychological screening – would have reacted differently.

The loss of Renninger, Griswold, Owens, Richards, Mundell and Timothy Brenton of Seattle hurts all the more for the high standards of professionalism they represented.

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