Yesterday two police officers in Arkansas stopped a van on the interstate and were murdered by the side of the road. It is still unknown what minor violation resulted in the officers pulling the vehicle over, but they ended up giving their lives to protect us all.
Every time I too often hear of law enforcement officers having their lives taken in service to their communities I am saddened and reminded of my fellow National Park Rangers who lost their lives during my career with the National Park Service. During the thirty two plus years of my service eighteen National Park Rangers died in the line of duty.
Each of these deaths took their own pound of flesh leaving emotional scars behind. The one that for me is most heartfelt and comes to mind after incidents like the one yesterday in Arkansas is the death of Park Ranger Joe Kolodski on June 21, 1998.
Joe was stationed at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and started the day taking his wife and three children to church for Fathers’ Day. When he came on duty that afternoon there was a report of a man threatening visitors with a rifle in an overlook on the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway. Joe was the first law enforcement officer to arrive on the scene and within minutes he was ambushed and shot down by the suspect who was hiding in the woods.
Joe’s death sent shock waves throughout the National Park Service. For me, not only did this occur in the park where I worked, but I had met Joe several times during training and details making it even more persona. The effects on Joe’s family and those close to him are incomprehensible and heartbreak they will have to deal with the rest of their lives.
All law enforcement officers face the possibility of death or injury every day. They never know what volatile situation or violent person they may encounter. In today’s society the potential for violent reactions from individuals to even the presence of law enforcement officers is on the rise. Individuals appear to be quick to resort to violent reactions to anyone questioning their actions or behavior. I believe that current increased negative rhetoric about government and government employees at all levels contributes to this attitude of non-compliance and fighting back.
Recently at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park there has been a marked increase in vehicle operators running from park rangers when they try to stop them for traffic violations. These incidents result in danger not only for the park rangers but the operators their passengers and the public. This is another example of the increased propensity of violence that law enforcement officers have to face daily.
We all need to show support and cooperation with law enforcement officers not only in times of crisis, but in our everyday lives.