- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

As the year draws to a close, we’d like to take an opportunity to honor the memory of the five District of Columbia and Maryland police officers who lost their lives in service to the public. The District of Columbia suffered two deaths of police officers in 2004. Maryland suffered three. Virginia was fortunate to have had none at this writing.

In Washington, Sgt. Clifton Rife was off duty in Oxon Hill the morning of June 2 when he was fatally shot in the chest by an Oxon Hill teenager who tried to rob him. He was a 13-year veteran of the force. The other fallen officer, Sgt. John S. Ashley, collapsed and died of a heart attack while on duty in Georgetown earlier the same week.

In Maryland, State Trooper Anthony Jones was struck by a drunk driver and killed while picking up debris from the road in May. Baltimore police officer Brian Winder was shot and killed in July by two men, one of whom he had arrested the previous week. Two weeks later, Maryland Transportation Authority officer Duke Aaron was killed by a pickup truck while issuing a citation to another driver.

It’s dangerous being a police officer, and the violent deaths show it. It’s some consolation, at least, that better safety precautions and falling crime rates appear to be making things safer for them. As an annual report on officer deaths from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund released this week shows, nationwide, 154 officers died in the line of duty in 2004. That’s below the ten-year average of 164, and although it’s ten more than in 2003, it’s far below the average of 224 a year in the 1970s. This year, the worst states by number of fatalities were the most populous ones: California and Texas tied for the most deaths, 14, followed by Florida with 12 and New York with 11.

Nationwide, as in Washington and Maryland, shootings and auto fatalities account for the bulk of the deaths. More than half were accidental.

It is difficult to predict where the numbers are headed. No one would have foreseen the high of 234 in 2001, for instance, caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That day 72 officers were killed — the single worst day for police-officer deaths in American history.

The violent crime rate is down one-third since the mid-1990s, according to the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, but officer deaths are only down by 13 percent since 1995.

These days, things are about the same in Washington as they were in the mid- and late 1990s. Back then, the District typically suffered two to four deaths a year, and that record saw a repeat in 2004. In the suburbs, things appear to be getting better in Virginia but are about the same in Maryland.

In May, as it does each year, the National Law Enforcement Officers Fund will add the names of local and nationwide victims alike to the officers’ memorial in Washington. As Chief of Police Charles Ramsey said of the two Washington officers at a service in October: “Not a day goes by that our Department and our community do not miss them. They were both special human beings, who — in their own unique ways — touched the lives of many and made our Department that much better.” As the new year approaches, we’d like to second Mr. Ramsey’s sentiments by honoring the fallen officers who gave their lives in service to public safety.

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