The rate of U.S. law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty has increased 75 percent the past four years, according to figures published today. Yet, officer deaths have fallen by 50 percent since the start of this year. No one can explain the divergent numbers, though some think the drop off might be influenced by a new procedure that alerts officers to the threat they face when making traffic stops. Then again, that didn't help Washington State Trooper Tony Radulescu.
A SWAT team later found the driver, Joshua Jearl Blake, 28, dead in his Port Orchard home, having shot himself as his pursuers approached. Authorities later learned that Blake, an ex-con with a violent background and wanted for parole violations, had told his girlfriend months earlier he would kill anyone who tried to arrest him.
Knowing that - or at least being informed of Blake's violent past - might have made a difference in whether Tony Radelescu lived or died. Most importantly, if such information had been obtained, it was imperative that the trooper receive it before approaching the driver.
It's unclear how, exactly, the Gorst traffic stop unfolded, since both witnesses are dead. But as the New York Times reports today, the timely notice of a dangerous driver is thought to at least be aiding other officers.
The Times points out that 72 law enforcement officers were killed by perpetrators in 2011, a 25 percent increase from the previous year - and a 75 percent increase from 2008, when 41 were killed. The 2011 deaths were the first time that more officers were killed by suspects than car accidents.
The story also notes that "Through the first three months of this year, the number of police fatalities has dropped, though it is unclear why." But one obvious change is the new radio-check procedure.
The F.B.I., which has tracked officer deaths since 1937, paid for a study conducted by John Jay College that found that in many cases the officers were trying to arrest or stop a suspect who had previously been arrested for a violent crime.
That prompted the F.B.I. to change what information it will provide to local police departments, the officials said. Starting this year, when police officers stop a car and call its license plate into the F.B.I.'s database, they will be told whether the owner of the vehicle has a violent history.
What the murder of Tony Radulescu suggests, however, is that the warning is no help if it doesn't arrive in time, due to computer lag or an officer opting to confront the driver before receiving it. With soaring cop-killing rates since 2008, there have to be measures in place to allow it to happen expeditiously.
"Every stop can be potentially fatal," says Michelle Klimt, an FBI training official. "We try and teach that every day you go out, you are going to be encountered with deadly force by someone trying to kill you."
In other words, high alert, and instant info. In these times, the only "routine" traffic stop is one where an unsuspecting officer gets killed.