WHEN THE BAD guys ran, Cpl. Steven Gaughan gave chase. That was part of his mission and training as a Prince George's County police officer and as part of a four-member special unit that tracks and arrests drug dealers and violent criminals. So he was only doing his job -- a risky job that has become dramatically riskier amid the county's recent crime wave -- when he pursued violent suspects who fled what was described as "a routine traffic stop" Tuesday. He was shot to death in broad daylight near Laurel. His exemplary courage, and his profound sacrifice, stand as painful reminders of how little is truly "routine" about police work, and of the deep debt of gratitude that officers are owed by society.
Cpl. Gaughan was 41, a 15-year veteran of the police force. Certainly, he understood the dangers: He'd been shot at while on duty before, in 1999, and he was the fifth police officer on the force to be fired at this year. He toiled in an environment where a swift increase in crime has made police work especially hazardous. Murder and rape are up by more than a quarter so far this year compared with the same period in 2004; carjackings have increased 42 percent, and robberies have more than doubled.
Following a shootout and standoff with police, the suspects Cpl. Gaughan pursued Tuesday were arrested, one of them with a gunshot wound. We trust they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Soaring crime and modest compensation have made recruiting and retaining police officers in Prince George's very difficult. Not many people are willing to do Cpl. Gaughan's job, to chase down the bad guys when they run. His death is a blow to the community, but by his bravery he set an example and left a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.