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Officer’s Worst Fear: 2016 brings highest number of officers shot, killed in 5 years

Times have changed for the men and women of law enforcement.

"When I first started there was just a huge respect for law enforcement for the job that they did," said Retired Olmsted County Chief Deputy Mark Darnell. "Even the criminals were appreciative"

Darnell has more than 40 years of law enforcement experience. He says that as he progressed through his career, respect for officers went down hill.

"It hurts," he said. "It really does."

This lack of respect, is translating into violence.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 39 officers were killed by gunfire in 2015. In 2016, that number jumped to 63. That is the highest number of officers shot and killed since 2011.

"It’s just sad," said Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag. "They show up for work that day wanting to do as best they can through the duties of their day and our job is so unpredictable. When cops die like that they die protecting their community."

Sheriff Freitag has been working in law enforcement for almost 25 years. For him, the ambush attacks, like the one in Dallas that took the lives of five officers back in July, scare him the most.

"That’s scary because you don’t know where the threat’s coming from," Sheriff Freitag said. "You don’t see it until you watch one of your own drop."

"I have a lot of friends out there, a lot of acquaintances and  you hold your breath every time when you see that city come up that you’ve been at and you think is it them? Is it the one I know? Is it that group that I know?" Darnell said. "It almost brings you to tears seriously as much as I’ve seen it it’s just too bad."

Since 2007, 516 law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty by gunfire across the nation, seven of them from Minnesota.

"I’ve been to a few funerals over the years and they’re tough, they really are," Sheriff Freitag said. "We’re no different than anyone else we have family we have kids, we have a wife, husband."

The most recent officer killed by gunfire in Southeastern Minnesota is Lake City Police Officer Shawn Schneider. He was shot while responding to a call to help a woman in a domestic dispute in December 2011.

"You go out there and you never know if you’re going to come home that day," Darnell said. "It’s almost like you hold your breath at the beginning of the shift and let it out when you get through the door at home. In between there you just hope. You hope your training takes over and things just go right and go your way."

That training is key.

"You got to be aware," Sheriff Freitag said. "You’ve got to start thinking of defensive measures because once you get out of the car if you don’t see anyone around but if someone is there they’ve got you. You’re standing there you don’t see them they see you. You’re pretty vulnerable."

Officers train to be prepared for any situation they might encounter, including those that may involve force.

Sheriff Freitag says there are three things that justify officers taking a life. It all comes down to if a suspect has the means, opportunity and intent to use force against the officer.

"Basically, someone has to have the means, the ability," he said. "They’ve got to have the opportunity. Maybe they are standing right there with you and they have a knife that gives them the opportunity that gives them the means. But just because someone is standing their with a knife could be a little pick-poker in their pocket doesn’t mean they have the intent but if the same person then pulls out the knife and says I’m going to kill you, they’ve given you means, opportunity, and intent."

Over the last year, a lot of the negative attitudes toward law enforcement stem from officer-involved shootings.

"Unfortunately the bad apples in our career field garner a lot of attention," Sheriff Freitag said. "Sometimes a cop who is not a bad apple may make a bad split second decision and within an hour it’s in the national media."

"Everybody’s got a camera phone and are shooting video immediately," Darnell said. "You don’t know when you see that video has it been edited? Is it just a part of what happened? So people are quick to judge and that’s also kind of hurtful."

At the end of the day, both Darnell and Sheriff Freitag want people to know that officers have one goal: to protect people.

"There’s no quotas on tickets or arrests," Darnell said. "We’re not out to get people by any means."

"We want them to know that they can trust us," Sheriff Freitag said.


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