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July 31, 2014

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Despite changing times and attitudes, being a police officer has always had its dangers, experts say

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L.E. Baskow

John Marias thanks Metro Police officers A. Reeder and S. Rumery for their sacrifice and dedication while on foot patrol at Fremont Street Experience.

After 34 years in law enforcement, Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, head of Metro Police, has witnessed the public’s change in attitude toward law enforcers.

“The climate has changed,” Gillespie said in a recent interview. “There was a lot more respect for authority in 1980 than today. Today, people are quicker to challenge officers in uniform than when I first hired on. No doubt about it.”

On Sunday, Jerad and Amanda Miller took their anti-government and anti-law enforcement attitude to the extreme. The duo ambushed and killed two Metro Police officers while they ate lunch at a CiCi’s Pizza.

After pulling the officers’ bodies from a booth, they placed a swastika and a “Don’t Tread on Me” Revolutionary War-era flag on the body of one of the officers. A note pinned to the other officer claimed the start of a revolution.

The duo then entered a nearby Wal-Mart, where they shot a bystander and got into a firefight with responding police officers. The gunbattle ended when police killed Jerad Miller and Amanda Miller committed suicide.

The brazen shootings rattled Las Vegas and led Metro Police to double patrol officers on duty to protect the officers from any followup attack.

The incident in Las Vegas coincides with a slight uptick in officers killed nationwide to start 2014. After five years of decline in the number of annual officer deaths, a study by the Nationwide Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation found that 62 officers had died by accident or at the hands of a criminal to start the year compared with 45 last year at this time.

“To see those numbers come down lower than the 10-year average, it looked like we were heading in the right direction,” Steve Groeninger, the foundation’s spokesman, said Wednesday. “Now to see those numbers uptick again, it’s troublesome.”

Still, Sunday’s attack is considered a rare occurrence. Police Executive Research Forum executive director Chuck Wexler doesn’t believe the job is any more dangerous for police officers than it has been in the past.

Most people respect police officers, Wexler said, but there always has been an extreme minority that will attack officers. With more officers wearing bulletproof vests, fewer are dying in attacks than in the past, he added.

“The gun threat has always been there,” Wexler said. “It goes back to the ’60s and ’70s with radical groups targeting police. We have seen the pendulum swing from the left to the right now.”

In Las Vegas, Chris Collins, Las Vegas Police Protective Association executive director, says he still believes 95 percent of the public supports and respects police.

The remaining 5 percent make the job dangerous.

Collins pointed to an attack on a Metro sergeant exactly one week before Soldo and Beck were gunned down. A suspect repeatedly punched the sergeant's face and attempted to steal her gun before he was arrested, according to an arrest report.

Three days after Sunday’s shooting, a man shot and injured a Henderson Police officer before police shot and killed the man.

While the uptick in police deaths in Las Vegas and nationwide could be cause for concern, Groeninger said the job has always been dangerous. Every time they put on the uniform and badge, officers become a target for criminals and extremists.

“I can’t really say it’s more or less dangerous now than 10 years ago,” Groeninger said. “There is an easier access to firearms ... but I haven’t heard an officer say that this job is so much more dangerous today than say 15 years ago. I think most law enforcement understand from day one, the job they’re doing is especially dangerous.”

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