The fatal shootings of two area police officers in 2011, followed by a third in January, reflect a nationwide trend.
According to the FBI’s Officers Killed and Assaulted Report, 72 police officers were killed in the line of duty in 2011, with more dying from gunshots than traffic accidents for the first time.
“(The report) clearly demonstrates what we already know – despite the dangers of law enforcement, the profession continues to attract brave men and women willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect their fellow citizens,” an FBI statement said.
Richmond County sheriff’s Deputy J.D. Paugh and Aiken Public Safety officers Scotty Richardson and Sandy Rogers died in the line of duty within a three-month span starting in October 2011.
“We live in a violent society,” said Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength. “My hat’s off to anyone who gets into law enforcement. It’s a much more dangerous game than it was when I got into it.”
In Georgia, officers were fired on 82 times in 2011, according to figures obtained from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Paugh was gunned down on Bobby Jones Expressway on Oct. 23, 2011.
Investigators said the popular motorcycle deputy didn’t even put down the kickstand of his motorcycle before a distraught Fort Gordon soldier, Christopher Hodges, fired his M4 rifle. Paugh fired three shots, but his weapon was disabled when it was hit by a bullet.
On Dec. 20, 2011, Aiken Public Safety’s Richardson, 33, was fatally wounded during a traffic stop. Less than a month later, the Aiken agency lost Rogers, 48. Authorities said the master corporal was shot and killed by a man fleeing the scene of an Augusta homicide.
Law enforcement experts say incidents against police officers could be on the rise because the shooters are desensitized to the consequences of violence. Others suggest that tougher prison sentences have raised the stakes for criminals who know they’ll be behind bars a long time, maybe for life, if they get caught. Or it could be that the thrill of a crime is heightened by a gunfight, speculated Matthew Podowitz, the founder of No Victims Atlanta.
“If you look at what’s behind that, it really comes down to an increase in desperation. … They may get more of a rush, more of a thrill, in the prospect of shooting at a cop,” he said.
GBI Director Vernon Keenan blamed the increase in instances of gunfire on a mix of factors.
“It’s a combination of anti-authority, anti-government sentiment, and you factor in substance abuse, alcohol and drugs, and you factor in general health issues, and the effect of violence in the media and video games,” he said. “It’s a storm of issues.”
Saddened by the loss of one of his officers, Strength said he was grateful no other officers were wounded by gunfire last year. He attributed that to quick thinking and training.