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Editorial: Public safety pros earn badges of honor
Police officers who face daily peril, crews battling mountain fires deserve our respect
Lisa Benson | Washington Post Writers Group

As we gather for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other end-of-year celebrations, our prayers at the holiday dinner table need to include the men and women in public safety who face daily hardships in their efforts to protect us.

This is always the case, but especially now as police and fire professionals here and nationwide face greater challenges than ever on various fronts.

In recent days, police officers have been targeted by ambush attacks in Texas, Missouri and Michigan by faceless, cowardly killers carrying a grudge against law enforcement. Two officers were killed, a third wounded.

Such ambushes aren’t the result of sudden confrontations between police and suspects but premeditated attacks. After an officer was shot and killed in San Antonio, that city’s police chief said “the uniform was the target” rather than who was wearing it.

It is the latest in a disturbing trend of attacks on law enforcement. Data from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund finds the 21 officers killed in such attacks this year ranks as a 10-year high, with a month go. In all, 130 officers have been killed in the line of duty in 2016, 60 by firearms, and six in Georgia. Officer fatalities from all causes, including accidents, are up 16 percent from last year, with fatal shootings up 67 percent, according to the Fund.

One such case recently hit close to home: U.S. Marshal Patrick Carothers, a Flowery Branch native, was shot and killed in South Georgia while executing a warrant for a suspect wanted for the attempted murder of police officers, among other charges, in South Carolina.

Carothers was a 26-year veteran of the department and served as the Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force deputy commander. His funeral was held Saturday.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police lists four factors that define such an ambush: element of surprise, concealment of the assailant, intentions or weapon; suddenness of the attack; and a  lack of provocation. They are classified as premeditated entrapment, where the attacker lures an officer into a trap, and spontaneous ambushes considered “crimes of opportunity” in which the assailant surprises the officer with an unprovoked assault.

Police always faced dangers on the beat, but this heightened threat makes their jobs more perilous. It likely is the result of the ongoing animosity between police and those who have felt targeted by racial profiling and police shootings of unarmed subjects. Those confrontations are disturbing and worthy of prosecution when found to be unlawful, plus ongoing discussion and efforts to repair those frayed relations.

But incidents of unjustified police overreaction are relatively isolated occurrences, despite the intense focus of news coverage. They are not indicative of the overwhelming majority of police officers who interact with residents effectively and serve nobly and bravely despite the challenges they face.

Law officials in Gainesville and Hall County have sought to ease this tension through face-to-face meetings and other community events that help connect officers with the people they serve on a personal basis. That effort toward understanding needs to continue everywhere. Those who believe they face discrimination by police are protected by them as well, and keeping streets and neighborhoods safe is a mutual desire. Police ranks include all races and walks of life; their common color is blue, and respect for the uniform should be a universal goal.

But it’s not just those in law enforcement blue who put their lives on the line for the general public. Those who don the turnout gear of our fire departments do so as well.

In particular, we need to offer support and gratitude to the more than 5,000 firefighters who have been battling wildfires in recent weeks across the North Georgia mountains and the Appalachians in several other states. More than three dozen fires, many believed to be started by arson, have burned 130,000 acres throughout the region. Those fires have covered more than 48,000 acres in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests across several Georgia counties and continue to burn.

The drought has provided the perfect recipe for wildfires, with falling leaves reigniting smoldering fires even as crews begin to make progress, and with no rain to help. Though such fires at times can be beneficial in clearing away brush and spawning long-term forest growth, they have endangered towns and cut into tourism, not to mention creating breathing problems for many from smoke that at times has covered much of North Georgia and reached all the way to metro Atlanta.

Fire crews have been joined by those on loan from other states, some from as far as California and Oregon, in the effort to contain fires and keep them from spreading to residential areas. They have been successful so far in protecting homes and avoiding tragedy, with no serious injuries or fatalities reported and no homes lost to the blazes, a credit to their efforts.

Area residents have shown their appreciation by offering meals, shelter and care packages to ease firefighters’ sacrifice. Churches and other community organizations have chipped in, and a Times van offered for donations last week was filled with snacks, drinks and other items for the fire crews. Churches in Dade and Gordon counties organized Thanksgiving dinners for firefighters who remained on duty.

One firefighter said “I’ve never been so welcomed” by the show of hospitality and gratitude Georgians have shown the visiting crews. It’s been a fitting way to reward those who gave up their holidays to keep homes and residents safe.

In a month when we honor the nation’s military heroes, it’s appropriate as well to remember those who keep us safe in different ways and varied uniforms. It’s hard for most of us to imagine what it’s like to get up in the morning knowing a day on the job could be your last, whether from a violent attack or a burning tree falling.

The brave police officers and fire professionals who face these dangers every day deserve our ongoing thanks, respect and prayers during the holidays and beyond. 

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a a letter to the editor; you can use this form or email to The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

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