The Washington Post

Police officers are killed dealing with domestic violence and other problems we ignore

Army sergeant Ronald Williams Hamilton could face the death penalty after fatally shooting his wife and an Prince William County officer on Feb. 27, during a domestic dispute. (Ashleigh Joplin/The Washington Post)
Columnist

The risks are real, and the threats are much more complex than most people want to acknowledge.

Every time cops like Ashley Guindon put on their badges and head to work, the criminals they encounter are only one small part of their difficult, dangerous jobs.

Nearly 1 million men and women in blue put their lives in jeopardy every day because they are too often the ones fighting the war on so many social issues that the rest of the nation refuses to properly address: domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, poverty and gun control.

This was how Guindon — a 28-year-old Marine Corps Reserve veteran and a double-degree college graduate in aeronautics and forensics — was killed Saturday on her first shift as a Prince William County police officer.

Hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil on Sundayto honor the life and sacrifice of Prince William Police Officer Ashley Guindon, who was gunned down the day before. (Reza A. Marvashti /For the Washington Post)

She was an ideal rookie — smart, tough, well educated and with enough opportunity in other career fields that a life on the beat had to be chosen out of conviction and passion for the work.

She had perspective, having recently worked as part of the unit at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling that dealt with returning the remains of fallen Marines to their families. She is the daughter of a sergeant who killed himself the day after he returned home from the Iraq War in 2004.

But it was in a quiet suburb in Northern Virginia on a domestic disturbance call that she met her death.

Army Staff Sgt. Ronald Williams Hamilton, 32, had been fighting all day with his wife, Crystal, who finally called 911, police said.

Guindon got the call. And when she arrived at the Hamiltons’ door, Crystal Hamilton was dead and Ronald Hamilton allegedly opened fire. Guindon was killed, and two other officers, Jesse Hempen, 31, and David McKeown, 33, were injured.

Blue blood was spilled here because of something folks don’t like to talk about, something that is politicized, marginalized and too often dismissed as a social issue: domestic violence.

The story wasn’t too different a few weeks ago in Abington, Md., where David Brian Evans, who has a long history of mental illness — and who is suspected of shooting his ex-wife years ago — allegedly killed two Harford County sheriff’s deputies inside a Panera restaurant. And it all apparently began with mental illness and access to guns.

A police officer is killed in the line of duty about every 2 1/2 days in the United States, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Last year, 124 officers were killed, according to the fund: 42 of them by gunfire; 52 in traffic accidents; 24 died of work-related illnesses, including heart attacks; and six died of other causes.

Nine of the officers killed last year were women, which was more than double the four female officers killed in 2014.

This year has been a deadly one for police officers, with 11 killed. At this time last year, only one had fallen in the line of duty.

Who kills police? The FBI data on law enforcement officer deaths shows that between 2004 and 2013, white males were the most frequent killers of cops.

It’s no secret that police work is dangerous, and these men and women put their lives in peril every day. But anyone discussing #BlueLivesMatter has to acknowledge where nearly all the risks to police officers come from.

Supporting police officers is about far more than a Facebook post, a tweet or a slogan. It means taking a serious look at the threats they confront daily and coming up with real solutions to minimize them.

It may not fit into a tough-guy meme to say that true reform of our mental-health system would save police lives, but it would. So would better drug treatment.

And taking on domestic violence on behalf of police officers doesn’t sound sexy, but seven cops were killed last year responding to such calls.

Want to talk guns?

The states ranked among the highest for gun ownership by Guns and Ammo magazine — Georgia, Louisiana and Texas — also had the highest rates of officer deaths.

It’s no mystery why police officers are vocal about the recent legislation passed in Texas allowing guns on university campuses. They are afraid for their lives, too.

We ask cops every day to be social workers, marriage counselors, psychiatrists, negotiators, teachers and friends. Yet, too often, the same people who ask this of police balk when asked to support the other people who are trying to do those jobs.

Ashley Guindon was an accomplished, thoughtful woman. And an appropriate way to honor her sacrifice is to acknowledge that the work of law enforcement officers is nuanced, complex and requires an American partnership that is much deeper than simply taking sides along a thin blue line.

Twitter: @petulad

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