In 2012, 206 law enforcement officers across the state were assaulted while on duty, according to a report released last month from the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center. That number is down 23 percent since 2010, a comparison of previous reports noted.
Of the 206 officers who were assaulted last year, 78 percent of the incidents involved hands, fists or feet.
Jacksonville police Chief Tommy Thompson said he doesn’t believe there’s any way to control something like police officer assaults.
“Officers can verbally handle some folks and talk them out of some things, but sometimes a fella is going to assault you,” Thompson said.
He said most officers learn quickly to use their words first to talk themselves out of a potentially dangerous situation.
Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge said he attributes the decline to more defensive tactic training and the use of stun guns.
“Training has gotten better for police officers and the tools in our tool boxes have gotten better,” Partridge said.
Partridge said he’d rather his officers have the tools to avoid a hand-to-hand assault situation with a suspect than get hurt and be on leave.
“It hasn’t gone down because society has gotten better,” Partridge said.
Owing to its inherent uncertainty, a seemingly routine disturbance call is considered to be the most dangerous type an officer can respond to, according to the ACJIC report; such calls made up 24 percent of assaults in 2010 and 2012.
Yet there’s no such thing as routine, said Anniston police Chief Shane Denham, and training classes try to stress this.
Thompson couldn’t recall a recent officer assault in Jacksonville, but said most disturbance calls his officers see involve alcohol or anger. Denham agreed that a disturbance call is hazardous for officers.
“A majority of our calls come out as a disturbance call and you never know what’s going to happen or what you’re going to get,” Denham said.
In the past, Thompson said his officers have been pushed or grabbed when they’re attempting to make an arrest. An arrest attempt, according to the ACJIC, was the reason for 20 percent of officer assaults in 2012.
“When you finally decide you’re going to take them in, that’s when they either resist or assault you,” Thompson said.
Anniston police are assaulted more than Denham said he’d like to admit. Last week, a man was charged with assaulting an Anniston officer with a box cutter during a traffic stop.
The person sitting in the car when a police officer pulls them over knows in their mind if they’re a good person, Denham said, or if they just committed a crime. Yet the officer approaching the car has no idea what the driver or passenger is capable of, he said, which is why the situation can end in officers getting injured.
It’s rare for officers to be assaulted with firearms; only 4 percent of the cases in 2012 involved guns and 2 percent were reported in 2011, the ACJIC noted. In August 2011, Justin Sollohub, an Anniston police officer, was killed during a foot chase. Two more officers died in the line of duty that year, but their deaths were caused by a vehicle crash and a motorcycle accident.
Denham described the day Sollohub was shot as the “worst experience of his life.”
“It’s still raw for me and a lot of people,” he said.
The man charged with Sollohub’s killing, Joshua Russell, will stand trial in September. Denham said his officers were familiar with Russell from previous encounters.
“I wish we could have done more at that time so this had never happened,” Denham said.
Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.