OFFICER Donald G. Luning, 31 years old and the father of two small children, was murdered Tuesday as he was trying to arrest a man suspected of stealing an automobile. The suspect, Mark Anthony Watson, was charged with using the officer's own service revolver to shoot him at point-blank range. Mr. Watson is only 19 years old, but already has a long record of juvenile offenses and has other charges pending against him in both Virginia and the District. Officer Luning is the first policeman to have been killed in the line of duty in Washington in more than two years.

The Metro section of this newspaper carries accounts of homicides in this city almost daily. And by now we are almost resigned to learning that those who are eventually convicted of murder have a history of clashes with the law. Often, they are on probation or free awaiting trial, as was Mr. Watson, when the crime was committed. But no homicide is commonplace, least of all when the victim is a law enforcement officer. Here we have an assault not only on an individual innocent victim, but on the society that victim represents.

This murder reminds us again of the difficult and very dangerous work we ask the police to perform day in and day out. It is their job to deal face to face with the most violent and unpredictable segment of society. Like firefighters, they may experience routine days for months at a time. But they know with certainty that there will be moments of terror and tragedy.

The families of these men and women bear a special burden, as Mrs. Luning and her children know today. May they find comfort in the loyalty and friendship of Officer Luning's colleagues, in the respect and gratitude of the citizens of this city and in the knowledge that their husband and father died a hero.