A Delaware police officer died Wednesday after he was viciously beaten this week and became one of the latest victims in a growing wave of violent attacks on police in America.
Officials at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore pronounced Delmar Police Department Cpl. Keith *Heacook clinically dead Wednesday afternoon, though he was still on life support. The 22-year veteran was found unconscious Sunday morning by a Delaware state trooper while responding to a call about a fight.
Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings hailed Cpl. Heacook as a hero during a press conference Wednesday.
“We are here to mourn the loss of a man who devoted his entire career to the selfless cause of serving the rest of us,” she said. “We are here to acknowledge law enforcement across this state who willingly face danger each and every day so that all of the rest of us don’t have to.”
Cpl. Heacook is one of two officers who died Wednesday after an attack. A North Carolina sheriff’s deputy was also killed when he was ambushed by a gunman while conducting a routine welfare check.
Their deaths come amid rising anti-police rhetoric after accusations of brutality. Law enforcement officials are under siege with violent attacks on officers, patrol vehicles and even police dogs.
SEE ALSO: Widow of Cpl. Keith Heacook, slain Delaware police officer, says violence against cops must stop
Police deaths this year are set to surpass the number from last year, which was the deadliest in decades for law enforcement. Although no one tracks assaults across the country, preliminary data from local departments shows attacks on officers are also on the rise.
It is clear officers are being targeted like never before, law enforcement experts say.
“Policing has always been a dangerous job, but with the anti-police sentiment out there, it has created an uptick in attacks on police officers,” said Mike McGrew, a 35-year veteran of the police department who co-founded a charity for officers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
As of Wednesday, four major attacks on police officers had been reported this week alone.
On Monday, a man struck a New York Police Department detective over the head with a plastic stick in broad daylight while the officer was processing a crime scene. The officer was treated for minor injuries. Akeele Morgan, 25, is charged with attacking the officer. A motive has not been provided.
A sheriff’s deputy in Watauga County, North Carolina, was killed Wednesday when a gunman opened fire on him and another officer as they conducted a routine welfare check. The deputy was declared dead at a local hospital while the other officer was treated at the scene.
Police have not identified the suspect, but a standoff between law enforcement and the individual continued through Wednesday evening. The suspect apparently killed himself hours later, The Associated Press reported.
An Iowa man was arrested Tuesday after he attacked and spit on officers as they tried to arrest him on suspicion of drunken driving, police said. Christopher Greenwood, 33, faces a slew of charges, including two related to the reported assaults.
Responding to a Sunday morning report of an assault on a couple in Delmar, Cpl. Heacook “suffered significant head injuries,” the Delaware State Police said.
Randon D. Wilkerson is charged with attacking Cpl. Heacook and assaulting a 73-year-old man and a 76-year-old woman. Police say he knocked on the back door of the couple’s home, entered the house and then repeatedly hit them with a glass object. The woman was taken to the Baltimore shock trauma center, police said.
The charges against Mr. Wilkerson will be upgraded to include murder, Ms. Jennings said at Wednesday’s press conference.
“He will be held accountable for his heinous crimes against Cpl. Heacook, against the elderly couple he viciously attacked and against Delmar and our entire state,” the attorney general told reporters.
Multiple factors are fueling the surge in attacks on police, analysts say.
In the wake of several high-profile deaths of unarmed Black men and women at the hands of police, officers are facing increased scrutiny over how they do their jobs.
The incidents have resulted in violent protests of police, slashed department budgets, and social media messages from politicians and celebrities who slam law enforcement while issuing tepid condemnations of attacks on officers.
At the same time, liberal prosecutors have announced that they will no longer pursue cases of resisting arrest, eliminating consequences for assaulting police.
“You are seeing the perfect storm of all these things happening at the same time,” Mr. McGrew said.
Through the first four months of the year, 111 officers lost their lives in the line of duty, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. That is an 11% increase from 98 during the same period last year.
A total of 360 officers died in the line of duty last year, according to the fund, the deadliest year for law enforcement since 1974.
Of the officer deaths this year, three were attributed to direct assault, 17 to gunfire, one to stabbing and eight to vehicular assault, according to the fund.
Last year, one officer was killed from an assault, 45 by gunfire and 13 from vehicular assault, the fund said.
Assaults also appear to be increasing.
In New York City, police have made 383 arrests this year for assaulting an officer, a 3% increase from 371 during the same period last year.
As of Tuesday, Philadelphia police have arrested 71 people for assaulting an officer, putting the department on pace for 568 arrests this year. That would shatter the record 285 arrests in 2020.
“I wouldn’t even consider joining the police today. Who wants to be vilified on a daily basis, and it is happening on a daily basis with a very broad brush,” said Maria Haberfeld, a former police officer and now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
In another incident this week, a suspected drunken driver in New York ranted against police in a Facebook live-stream before hitting a highway officer in Queens with her car. The officer died.
Jessica Beauvais, who faces manslaughter charges, admitted she had been drinking and smoking marijuana before she got into her car that morning. Her blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit, police say.
Hours earlier, she uploaded a two-hour live-stream bashing police and threatening to kill an officer.
“If you are going to kill me, at least I get to take someone with me. I’m one of those people. If I’m going to go, someone is coming,” she said.
“A person vilifies the police and then she kills a police officer. It’s horrible, and I don’t know how we come back from this,” Ms. Haberfeld said.
Police are also frustrated with district attorneys in several major cities who are no longer prosecuting those charged with resisting arrest.
Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon said in December that charges of resisting arrest, a misdemeanor, should be declined or dismissed before arraignment. Mr. Gascon said the move would help reduce the number of people in prison.
Police officers, however, see the move as a free pass for criminals to fight them.
“Criminals know they can fight an officer, attack an officer and know they will not be held accountable,” Mr. McGrew said. “That needs to change, or it will feel like a free-for-all.”
Ms. Haberfeld said politicians and celebrities also deserve some of the blame for the animus directed at police.
In the past week, LeBron James and Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, have come under fire for public statements against police.
Ms. Waters called for protesters to “get more confrontational” with police if former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was acquitted in the killing of George Floyd.
Mr. James was roundly criticized for appearing to incite violence against a Columbus, Ohio, officer who killed a Black teenage girl who police say was about to stab another girl with a knife.
“The politicians are fueling this,” Ms. Haberfeld said. “There are very few statements condemning attacks on police, and when there are statements, they are very lukewarm.”
Ms. Haberfeld said these statements quickly go viral and inspire people to take out their frustrations on officers.
“If you are fighting for social justice, attacking the police makes you some sort of martyr or warrior for social justice,” she said.
FBI data shows police officer killings rise during years of major civil unrest across the country.
In 2016, after a series of police-involved killings of Black men, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Philando Castile in St. Anthony, Minnesota, police slayings increased. Police killings jumped 61% to 66 in 2016 — including 17 who were ambushed — from 41 in 2015. During the Occupy Wall Street movement’s heyday in 2011, law enforcement deaths jumped by 28% to 72 — including 15 who were ambushed — from 56 in 2010Although the numbers ultimately declined, Ms. Haberfeld said, this time is different because the 2011 and 2015 killings were tied to single issues such as the economy. This time, she said, multiple factors are at play, making it difficult to reduce the numbers.
“In 2011, it was the economy. When the economy bounced back, we saw the numbers [of police killings] go down,” she said. “There is a combination of factors now.”
* (Correction: Delmar Police Department Cpl. Keith Heacook‘s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. His name has been corrected.)