By the very nature of their work — to protect the innocent from those bent on harm — police officers must sometimes use deadly force. And when a suspect lies dead in the aftermath, it is also the nature of police work to be second-guessed: Did the suspect really pose a deadly threat? Could police have avoided bloodshed?
It is both necessary and proper to ask those questions. Police officers can err, and there must never be an end to efforts to both hold law enforcement accountable and to perfect police techniques in the interests of protecting the public and officers themselves.
But sometimes amid all the second guessing we can lose sight of the other stark reality of police work: Officers themselves can be injured and killed while protecting the public. That was brought tragically home Saturday night after two Phoenix police officers were slain and another injured in a shootout with a crazed gunman, one Douglas M. Tatar, who'd already shot and wounded a man with whom he reportedly had lost a $100 bet. Yet another Phoenix policeman was hurt in a traffic accident while driving to the scene.
Eric White and Jason Wolfe were more than police officers. They were also husbands and fathers — young men who'd dedicated their professional lives to protect and serve the public. They laid their lives on the line in those tense moments when officers had one objective in mind: Stop this gunman before anyone else is hurt or killed.
They were fatally shot as they stormed through the gunman's apartment door. As their supervisor, Dave Thomas, told reporters, “They did it to save lives and end the situation as soon as possible.” Thomas credited the slain officers with preventing further harm to the man Tatar had shot initially. “He's alive today because of the quick response of those officers,” Thomas said.
Our prayers go out to the families of the slain officers, as does our hope for full and speedy recovery of the two who were injured. And let every law-abiding citizen pause and reflect on this tragic loss and say a prayer of thanks to all the men and women in law enforcement who may, at any moment, be thrust into harm's way.
This is not a time to second-guess. This is a time to mourn — and to be grateful.