SIDNEY — Since July 2016 the flag at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office has been lowered in respect for law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.
“In July 2016, five Dallas police officers were killed in an ambush,” said Chief Deputy Jim Frye, who was handling the weekly interview since Shelby John Lenhart was attending the National Sheriffs’ Association winter conference.
“That was the deadliest day for law enforcement officers since 9/11,” said Frye. “I talked with Sheriff Lenhart about lowering the flag. I asked if we could keep it lowered until a 30-day period had passed when no law enforcement officer was killed in the line of duty.
“It’s been at half staff since July 2016 because we haven’t gone 30 days without a law enforcement officer being killed,” said Frye.
Since Jan. 1, 2019, 15 law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty. Six of those killed were military veterans one one officer was just 19 years old, said Frye. During the first 13 days of 2019, seven officers were killed.
“The average citizen gets up in the morning, gets dressed and kisses their wife and children goodbye before going to work,” said Frye. “They don’t worry that they might not walk back into their door at the end of the day.
“When a law enforcement officer leaves their home, they know that they might not be returning at the end of their shift,” he said. “They know it could be the last time they walk out of their door. They know that they might get killed in the line of duty.”
Frye said in recent years he’s become more concerned about the safety of law enforcement officers across the nation.
“As I get older, it becomes more of a topic for me,” said Frye. “It’s almost an obsession. I check the Officer Down Memorial page in the morning and evening.”
His phone also pings when an officer is killed in the line of duty and the name has been added to the page, along with the circumstances surrounding his or her death.
In 2018, 150 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty. On May 15, 2019, those officers names will be added to a memorial during the National Peace Officers Memorial Day service.
The number of officers killed in an ambush situation is going up, said Frye.
“People don’t respect law enforcement officers,” said Frye. “People are going out of their way to target them.”
Racial tension, the political scene in the U.S. and other factors are contributing to the increase in officer deaths, he said.
And why is this happening?
“I don’t have an answer for that,” said Frye. “It’s sad that the people who are calling us when they need help are ambushing the officers.”
Natalie Corona, 22, an officer with the Davis Police Department in California, is one of the officers who has died in 2019. She had graduated from the police academy in July 2018 and completed her field training in December 2018. She was ambushed as she was at the scene of a crash.
“A subject on a bicycle came up behind her and shot her,” said Frye. “After she fell to the ground, he continued to shoot her. Then he shot at bystanders at the scene.”
The subject barricaded himself in a residence. He was wearing a bulletproof vest and shot at officers responding to the scene. The subject committed suicide.
“I have been at many accidents and that’s the last thing I’m thinking about,” said Frye. “You’re thinking about what you need to do at the scene — make sure everyone is safe and the victims get medical treatment. You’re worrying about getting all the information you need for your report.
“The last thing you’re thinking about is that someone could come up behind you on a bicycle and kill you,” he said. “Now officers have to think about that also.”
On Feb. 2, 2019, Clermont County Deputy William Brewer was responding to a scene where a person was threatening suicide. Both Brewer and another deputy were shot at by the subject. Brewer was killed in the line of duty.
Line of duty deaths have been recorded since 1791. Since that time, there have been 23,589 law enforcement line of duty deaths. Of those deaths, 12,415 were killed by gunfire.
“During the last 10 years, 1,592 officers have been killed in the line of duty,” said Frye. “In the last five years, the number is 811 deaths. In 2017, 152 were killed in the line of duty.”
Frye said of the deaths in 2018, the youngest officer killed was 23; the oldest officer was 76. The average age of the officers killed was 41 years old.
A total of 853 Ohio law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty since officials started keeping the records in 1791.
One of the Ohio officers killed was Shelby County Sheriff Benjamin McLean, who died Feb. 9, 1866, following a beating he received from two suspected horse thieves. He was trying to arrest them on the north side of court square. McLean was 44 yeas old and had been with the department for three years. Prior to joining the sheriff’s office, he was a salesman. McLean left behind a wife and six children. He is buried in Graceland Cemetery.
“Society has changed over the years,” said Frye. “It seems like people no longer have any morals when it comes to killing somebody. You have the school shootings were they are killing kids. Then there’s suicide by cop where the person wants a police officer to kill them.
“And now we have officers sitting in cruisers, doing paperwork, and someone sneaks up behind them, killing them.”
And, said Frye, don’t think it can’t happen in Shelby County, it did on Oct. 24, 2016, when a suspect fired six shots at Deputy Joel Howell.
“I worry about the men and women in our department every day” said Frye. “I believe the training Deputy Howell had saved him from getting shot that day. He was SWAT training and reacted to the situation.
Brewer and his lieutenant went into a situation where there was a suicidal person and he shot at them, said Frye.
“I’ve been involved in situations like that myself,” said Frye. I’ve gone into a house to talk someone down.”
He said law enforcement officers can never become complacent about their safety when they are on duty.
“They have to be in a mindset that something can happen here,” said Frye. “They can be in their car when something happens. They need to be aware of their surroundings. Don’t drive to work the same way every day. We have to prepare ourselves for anything that can or will happen.
“And,” he said, “that’s hard to do.”
The writer conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.