Open season on cops?
Written by Mark Nichols
In a recent article for the St. Petersburg Times, reporter Meg Laughlin asks, "Is this sudden rash of police shootings the beginning of an era marked by an escalation of brazen, cold-blooded cop killers?" "It appears it is. More and more criminals are out there to pop a cop," said Steve Groeninger, spokesman for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C. in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times. He points to 78 officers feloniously killed in 2010, a dramatic upswing from the 2009 number of 48, and headlines like this one in the Indianapolis Star: "Cop Killing is Part of Disturbing U.S. Trend."
But criminologists around the country beg to differ. "Some people are asking if there are more sociopaths out there set on killing police, when the question should be: Are there more people out there who will do anything not to be taken into custody," said University of South Florida criminology associate professor Lori Fridell in an interview with the Times.
"The answer is yes and the question becomes: Why?" "In Florida, most inmates come out of prison 10 times worse than when they went in. We have a grand opportunity to make them participate in school, learn a trade and do all sorts of things to become worthwhile.
But, instead, we throw them into an environment where they have to fight to stay alive, then complain when they get out and commit more crimes," said Ron McAndrew, a former warden at Florida State Prison, a death row facility known for being the harshest prison in the state.
McAndrew says that in the case of the late St. Petersburg cop killer and former convict Hydra Lacy Jr., corrections records show he worked sporadically as a food server, a grounds man and a clinic aid in prison but was frequently put in solitary confinement between late 1992 and 2000.
He spent close to three years in solitary. "Prisons are more crowded than ever, and there's less money and fewer programs to rehabilitate inmates," she says. Another problem she sees is that many prisoners aren't followed with community services once they're released and return to the same environment that got them in trouble in the first place - often an environment rife with illegal guns," according to Beth Huebner, criminal justice associate professor at the University of Missouri.
"You mark my word," he says. "The number of recent shootings are a fluke, not a trend," Gary Kleck, professor of criminology at Florida State University told St Petersburg Times reporter Meg Laughlin. Kleck says he predicts that despite the spate of police killings this month, the numbers will go down as the year continues and will be close to the average of 50 police deaths a year by the end of 2011.
Dave Klinger, associate professor of criminology at the University of Missouri, says tactical decisions also play a major role. For instance, he points to Hydra Lacy hiding in the attic of the St. Petersburg house and shooting officers Jeffrey Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger, who were there to arrest him.
"Why go into that attic in the first place?" asked Klinger. "Where was command and control?" Elizabeth Watts, spokesman for the Clearwater Police Department noted that,
"The one thing we can say is that if someone is out to do harm - for whatever reason - you can take all precautions. But it won't matter if they're determined."