Police Fatalities On The Rise

Jul 6, 2017
Originally published on July 6, 2017 8:40 pm

The New York City neighborhood where a gunman walked up to a truck-like mobile police command vehicle early Wednesday and shot into a window killing Officer Miosotis Familia, is in a high-crime area of the Bronx.

Authorities say they are still working to identify the shooter's motive, but still, Familia's death stunned residents such as Liz Fabers.

"Did she deserve to die, hell no, nobody shouldn't walked up on her and just killed her," she says.

Nick Bruel, safety director for the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, says there's been nearly an 18 percent jump in the number of police killed on the job since last time this year.

"New York is right now at the top of the list in terms of states that have suffered line-of-duty deaths," he explains.

Seven of the 67 police fatalities so far have been in New York, and of that 67, more than a third died from gunshot wounds.

City officials in New York are calling Familia's death an assassination. Police Commissioner James O'Neill says the 48-year-old was on the force for 12 years and working her normal midnight shift, sitting in the command vehicle writing in a notebook, when the shooting occurred.

"She was doing the job that she loved, keeping this great city safe," he says.

Police identified 34-year-old Alexander Bonds, an ex-convict, as the shooter. He posted a video on Facebook last September railing against police, but had no previous contact with Familia. He died after police officers caught up with him and fatally shot him.

It was a chilling deja vu for New York. In 2014, a man shot and killed two officers sitting in a police car before killing himself. Then-police commissioner William Bratton called those deaths an assassination.

Last year there was a marked increase in law enforcement fatalities. In Dallas, five police officers died in an ambush after a peaceful protest march over deadly police shootings was at its end. In Baton Rogue, La., Gov. John Bel Edwards, spoke out after two officers and a sheriff's deputy were killed, calling it "a diabolical attack on the very fabric of society." Last fall, two policemen in Iowa died in separate ambush attacks.

While the number of line-of-duty deaths has been on the decline since the 1970s, police say protests and investigations have left them demoralized.

"When you see someone that's making threats doing something against police officers, you need to let us know, you need to be our eyes and ears," says Pat Lynch, the head of New York's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, expressing outrage over this latest police fatality.

And Bruel says a Justice Department initiative focuses in part on increasing safety for officers during ambush attacks.

"There are manufacturers who are now trying to come up with more protective materials for officers who are seated in cars, to make them less vulnerable in certain circumstances," he says.

New York's new patrol cars do have bulletproof glass, but in the final analysis, says Bruel, there may not be much that can be done except to make officers be very aware of their surroundings.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In New York, authorities say they're still working to identify the motive of a man who fatally shot an on-duty duty police officer early yesterday morning. The shooting puts the number of police who have died in the line of duty this year at nearly 70. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The New York neighborhood where a gunman walked up to a truck-like mobile police command vehicle and shot into a window killing Officer Miosotis Familia, is in a high-crime area of the Bronx. Still, the shooting stunned residents like Liz Fabers.

LIZ FABERS: Did she deserve to die? Hell, no. Nobody shouldn't have walked up on her and just killed her.

CORLEY: The National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund tracks officer deaths. Safety director Nick Breul says there's been nearly an 18 percent jump in the number of police killed on the job since this time last year.

NICK BREUL: New York is, right now, at the top of the list in terms of states that have suffered line-of-duty deaths.

CORLEY: Seven of the 67 police fatalities so far - and of that 67, more than a third died from gunshot wounds. City officials in New York call Familia's death an assassination. Police Commissioner James O'Neill says she was on the force for 12 years and was on her normal midnight shift, sitting in the command vehicle and writing in a notebook when the shooting occurred.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES O'NEILL: She was doing the job that she loved, keeping this great city safe.

MARTIN: Police identified 34-year-old Alexander Bonds, an ex-convict, as the shooter. He posted a video on Facebook last September railing against police but had no previous contact with Familia. He died after police officers caught up with him and gunned him down.

It was a chilling deja vu for New York. In 2014, a man shot and killed two officers sitting in a police car before killing himself. New York's police commissioner at the time was William Bratton.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM BRATTON: They were, quite simply, assassinated.

MARTIN: And last year, there was a marked increase in law enforcement fatalities. In Dallas, five police officers died in an ambush after a peaceful protest march over deadly police shootings was at its end. In Baton Rouge, La., Governor John Bel Edwards spoke out after two officers and a sheriff's deputy were killed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN BEL EDWARDS: This was a diabolical attack on the very fabric of society.

CORLEY: And two policemen in Iowa died in separate ambush attacks. The number of line-of-duty deaths has been on the decline since the 1970s. Still, police have said protests and investigations have left them demoralized. Pat Lynch, the head of New York's Police benevolent association, expressed outrage over this latest police fatality in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAT LYNCH: When you see someone that's making threats, doing something against police officers, you need to let us know. You need to be our eyes and ears.

CORLEY: Nick Breul with the officers memorial fund says a Department of Justice initiative focuses in part on increasing safety for officers during ambush attacks.

BREUL: There's manufacturers who are now trying to come up with additional protective materials for officers who are either seated in cars, to make them less vulnerable in certain circumstances.

CORLEY: New York's new patrol cars do have bulletproof glass. But in the final analysis, says Breul, there may not be much that can be done except to make officers be very aware of their surroundings. Cheryl Corley, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GONZALO GRAU'S "ONE FIVE-LEGGED CAT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.