To preserve the American Dream
In the early hours of Monday morning my late night meanderings at the keyboard were interrupted by a cryptic message on the police scanner – a motorist had fired on a Carroll County deputy during a traffic stop.
Old Westminster Pike… his gun misfired, “I got one round off,” reported the deputy in somewhat uncharacteristically descriptive plain English.
Keeping the chatter of the police scanner on in the background while I work is an old habit of multiple origins. Over the many years I’ve learned to interpret the strange language of numbers, tones, code words and the humor – or excitement – of inside police baseball.
What I heard being communicated in the professionally composed dialogue that ensued was that a police officer had just had a life-threatening random brush with the chaos that can be law enforcement late at night
According to the police scanner, the suspect sped away from the scene only to quickly overturn. The suspect then fled on foot and the manhunt began in earnest.
As this column comes together, a statewide manhunt for the suspect continues.
A press release issued later on Monday told more of the story. “… Deputy 1st Class Brant Webb was patrolling in a marked sheriff’s car on Old Westminster Pike near Reese Road (just east of the Westminster city limits,) when he stopped a 1998 Ford Explorer for displaying suspended registration.
“As the deputy contacted the driver, he thrust a handgun out the window and attempted to fire a shot at the deputy; but the handgun reportedly misfired. The deputy backed away from the vehicle, and returned fire as the driver accelerated away from the traffic stop…”
The suspect, “Brian Joseph Hill aged 27 of the 3900 block Penhurst Avenue, Baltimore… has been known to associate with members of the Crips and he is considered armed and dangerous.”
In a late Monday afternoon interview, Maj. Phil Kasten, of the Sheriff's Department, remarked that “based on his (Hill’s) past actions this past morning… and his past affiliations… He is a known member of the Crips. We consider Hill to be a threat to members of the public and police officers.”
Later, while writing a newspaper article about the incident, I could not help but wonder several things.
Of course, one of the first things that came to mind is what in the world was the suspect thinking to have caused him to wind down the window and try and kill a police officer?
I grew up in Westminster in an era when police officers were your friends and neighbors, an integral component to the social fabric of the community. In the small town that was once Westminster, police officers were the neighbor next door, a member of your family’s social circles, or the kindly gentleman with whom you sat in the church pews on Sunday.
Later in life, when I served as the mayor of Westminster, I gained additional respect for the work of police officers as I viewed their challenges, and the increasing dangers they faced, from an insider’s vantage point.
Today, community crime is one of my beats as a newspaper reporter. I still view police officers as friends; and I care about their health and safety.
Monday morning the Carroll County sheriff’s deputy was lucky. He was not hurt.
However, according to information from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), “Crime fighting has taken its toll. Since the first recorded police death in 1792, there have been more than 15,000 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
“A total of 1,647 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the last 10 years, an average of one death every 53 hours or 165 per year. On average, more than 62,000 law enforcement officers are assaulted each year, resulting in some 21,000 injuries.”
The website observes the number of officers shot and killed surged 22 percent from 2008 to 2009.
And the organization’s yearend report notes: “Once again, responding to domestic disturbance calls proved to be particularly dangerous for America’s law enforcement officers during 2009.”
However, traffic stops also remain dangerous for police officers. The danger of being struck by a passing motorist is ever-present and a police officer never knows what dangers lurk within the stopped automobile as the Carroll County sheriff’s deputy learned first-hand Monday morning.
The police officer does not know if you are an idiot, a law-abiding person, or a wanted murderer.
Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch sadly reported on May 12, for this year’s observances of National Police Week and National Peace Officers Memorial Day, “This year, 116 names will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial here in Washington, D.C.
“We should remember that there are 116 families who grieve the loss of a loved one who gave their life to protect their community and keep their fellow citizens safe.
“The sacrifice of those brave officers is the price paid for living in open society where freedoms are guaranteed by our nation’s laws. When those laws are violated, we look to our protectors who wear the badge to answer the call.”
Senator Hatch recalled that during the dedication of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 1991, President George H.W. Bush said: “Carved on these walls is the story of America, of a continuing quest to preserve both democracy and decency, and to protect a national treasure that we call the American Dream.”
That is what our dedicated law enforcement professionals do every day. They protect the American Dream.
Next time you see a police officer, I hope that words uttered under your breath are a prayer of thanksgiving for their bravery and service to our community.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.