This has been a tragically costly week for law enforcement in our Valley, and a sad one for all law-abiding citizens who appreciate the vital role our police officers play in protecting us from the criminal element, and that that service sometimes exacts the ultimate sacrifice.
Valley law enforcement officers buried two of their own after a crazed gunman who’d already shot and wounded a man opened fire on the officers after they kicked open his apartment door. They died in the line of duty, doing what they believed they had to do to stop the gunman and prevent further harm to innocent civilians. All decent Arizonans are indebted to their memory and their supreme sacrifice.
Decent Arizonans also should hope and pray that whatever can be learned from the circumstances surrounding this tragedy will help our police agencies further improve policies, procedures, training and equipment. For that process must be never-ending — with the aims of perfecting law enforcement’s effectiveness and reducing officers’ and civilians’ exposure to harm.
That’s a tall order, but a vital one. The tragic shooting death of Chandler police officer James Snedigar in a similar shoot-out in April 1999 comes to mind. Like officers Eric White and Jason Wolfe, who died in Phoenix last weekend, Snedigar died in a hail of bullets as he and other Chandler officers rushed into an apartment where a fugitive was holed up.
Snedigar’s death sparked an exhaustive examination of police procedures in such cases which in turn led to procedural changes and upgrades in equipment and training. As a result, Chandler police and Chandler citizens are better protected today should a similar situation unfold. As the Tribune’s Ray Stern reported on Thursday, the Chandler case even prompted the City Council to spend more than $145,000 on a robot that can assist officers in cases where fugitives are holed up in buildings.
The examination and subsequent changes in no way detracted from Snedigar’s heroism and sacrifice. While we must hold law enforcement officers to very high standards, we do them a grave injustice if we hold them to unreasonable standards of absolute perfection. Human beings, even the most talented and best trained, by nature are imperfect.
But it is also a quality of the human spirit to strive for perfection — to learn from experience and do things better next time.
That does no disservice to the memories of James Snedigar, Eric White and Jason Wolfe. Indeed, it gives their service and sacrifice even greater and more durable meaning.