As 2022 begins, we in law enforcement remain acutely aware of the long, sad shadow that violence has cast across our entire country. And, particularly here, within our shared community, violence — and its threat — has caused substantial pain, suffering and anxiety to our citizens, who we are both sworn and privileged to protect and serve.
Of course, we, ourselves, are hardly immune to the ravages of violence. Last year was the deadliest year in decades for law enforcement officers. All Oregonians should take notice.
To stem violence, we in law enforcement, at every level, in every community, must strengthen — and in some cases rebuild — relationships with the people we serve. Police chiefs and sheriffs across the state have impressed upon me that they understand accountability and transparency are critical to relationships of trust. I am confident our state's law enforcement leaders are committed to hiring and promoting a cadre of officers who view service in law enforcement as a calling to community service.
In reality, finding and retaining the "best of the best" remains a challenge in an environment where officers and deputies are often typecast as lacking humanity. I would respectfully ask all Oregonians to consider that stereotyped portrayals of law enforcement officers make our communities less safe. Inherent in the civic sacrifice of a law enforcement officer is the reflex to run toward danger. That sacrifice should neither be ignored nor devalued.
At the same time, we are human. We make mistakes. Our profession needs to own these mistakes. The communities we serve righteously demand nothing less. In this regard, significant strides have been made in improving our training and tactics. To be effective, however, such strides must harmonize with the policies and values of the served community.
I firmly believe the vast majority of law enforcement officers today are sincerely committed to public service, even to the point of sacrificing their own lives. In 2021, 73 law enforcement officers in the United States were killed (known as End of Watch, or EOW, in our profession) as direct result of a willful and intentional act by another. Thousands more suffered serious assaults.
Countless cases from Oregon and southwest Washington exemplify the life-threatening dangers faced daily by law enforcement officers.
• Douglas County Sheriff's Deputy Allen Burdic, EOW March 11, 2021 (from gunshot wounds he sustained in 1980).
• Oregon State Police Sgt. John Burright, EOW May 4, 2021 (from injuries received while on duty in 2001).
• Clark County Sheriff's Sgt. Jeremy Brown, EOW July 25, 2021 (from gunshot wounds suffered while on duty).
• On Nov. 11, 2021, Oregon State Police Trooper John Jeffries was nearly killed while attempting to stop a suspect wanted for robbery and domestic violence. Jeffries continues to receive intensive medical care.
So, as we reflect on 2021 with respectful commemoration and approach 2022 with hope and resolve, let us honor the memories of each one of those courageous law enforcement officers who either sustained life-threatening or life-ending injuries in serving and protecting their communities. Let us join together in pledging to make our communities safer. In that process, let us find ways to improve interactions between law enforcement officers and those they have sworn to serve. And, finally, as we seek to hold our law enforcement officers to the highest standards, let us also respect and value those who protect and serve us.
Kieran L. Ramsey is the special agent in charge of the FBI Portland Field Office, serving all of Oregon.
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