The past year was a bad one for police in America. One hundred thirty-six officers died in the line of duty in 2016, up 10 percent from 2015. Sixty-five were shot fatally, compared with 41 a year earlier.
None of those deaths was in Idaho. That’s a relief to Mike Johnson, a former U.S. marshal and retired Boise Airport police chief who presides over the board of the Idaho Peace Officers Memorial.
But one Idaho officer died in 2015: Greg Moore, of Coeur d’Alene, who was shot and killed after stopping a man behaving suspiciously in a neighborhood. Moore’s death led Johnson and a fellow board member to accompany Moore’s wife and daughter to Washington, D.C., last May for an annual ceremony honoring Moore and other American police officers who died doing their jobs.
The fellow board member, Cheryl Stall Chamberlin, of Boise, noticed something: The list of Idahoans on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial was shorter than the list on the Idaho Peace Officers Memorial. The state memorial lists 71 officers who have died since 1883. The national memorial lists 63.
What happened to the other eight?
“I decided I had to start making some calls,” Johnson said.
Johnson made it his mission to get those eight names placed on the memorial. He spent most of the rest of the year doing research and gathering the paperwork required to get the names confirmed and approved for inclusion.
“They have to be honored,” Johnson said.
Some of the names were missing because paperwork was never completed. Others had simply been overlooked.
Among those missing is Boise County Deputy Sheriff V. Walter Coffin, the first known Idaho law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty. He was shot to death on April 18, 1883.
2016: Zero deaths in Idaho, 136 in the U.S.
Idaho is one of 16 states to report no officer fatalities in 2016, according to a preliminary report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Firearms-related incidents were the No. 1 cause of American officers’ on-the-job deaths in 2016, accounting for nearly half, a 59 percent increase from 2015. Twenty-one officers died in ambush-style attacks — the highest number in more than two decades.
Michael Becar, who leads a Meridian-based organization of police-training managers, said highly publicized events like the August 2014 fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., contributed to the surge.
“Before all these ambushes, we had things like Ferguson, which were televised,” Becar said. “The police were portrayed as very militaristic, operating much like a military. That started creating all kinds of problems. We had report after report after report and shooting after shooting after shooting where police officers were condemned for their actions.”
That, Becar said, is when the nation’s police academies started examining their training programs — a movement he has encouraged through his organization, the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training.
“They are moving more and more toward teaching officers how to better relate with their community, how to create community partnerships, how to be less militaristic and more guardians of democracy and the Constitution,” he said. “And how to only be a warrior when they have to be — not to approach every situation from a warrior mindset, but rather a guardian mindset.”
Gary Raney, who worked for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office for nearly 32 years, the last 10 as sheriff, is now a consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice. He said the spike in officers shot “mirrors the social trend of violence” and “suggests a homicidal disregard for social responsibility.”
“Police have always been at the front line of social unrest,” Raney said. “I think the social unrest in our country and a lack of social cohesion put police both in the position to be assaulted, because of their presence and also as symbols of what may be perceived as injustice or oppression.”
More Idaho officers killed in rural areas
The Idaho Peace Officers Memorial keeps track of the ways Idaho officers die in the line of duty.
Moore, the Coeur d’Alene police officer, is the only officer who has been killed since 2009.
Of the 71 deaths over the last 133 years, just one is from Ada County, the state’s most populous. Raney, who was sheriff from 2005 to 2015, said there are good reasons for that.
First, one-third of Idaho officers’ deaths are due to car crashes. Nationally, from 2006 through 2015, 28 percent died in car crashes.
“Those tend to happen more often in rural areas, because speeds are higher (responding to emergencies, or even just driving) and help is farther away,” Raney said in an email. “Sometimes that means no one knows about the crash for awhile and it almost always means EMS services are longer away.”
Second, officers in urban areas tend to have better training and equipment and more backup, which “correlates to being better prepared to deal with those people when they do appear, and being more prepared makes it less likely someone will get killed, whether it’s the officer or the suspect,” Raney said.
Idaho Peace Officers Memorial
Honoring the Idaho officers was the brainchild of Jody Pogue, the daughter of Idaho Fish and Game Officer Bill Pogue. He was one of two Fish and Game officers shot and killed by Claude Dallas, a poacher they were trying to arrest in Owyhee County in 1981.
“She said Idaho did not have a peace officer memorial, and she wanted my help getting one started,” Becar said. “I went to work and created a board to help. We estimated we needed $350,000 to build the memorial.”
Becar and the board raised the money in about three years.
The Idaho Peace Officers Memorial, located on the campus of the Idaho State Police headquarters in Meridian, was dedicated on May 15, 1998.
The memorial is governed by an all-volunteer board and receives no tax dollars. It is funded by donations and fees collected from an Idaho specialty license plate honoring Idaho peace officers that was made available in 2003. The organization receives $25 from each new plate and $15 from each renewal. There were 2,046 peace-officer plates in use in 2015.
This month the memorial’s board will get a new president. Johnson, 62, plans to leave the board later this year. He has served on it for 12 of the past 20 years, including the last three as president.
“It is time to pass the torch,” he said.
Johnson says he is leaving on a high note, having accomplished a mission he started last year.
On Oct. 21, Johnson received a letter confirming that six of the names missing from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial would be added. On Dec. 7, he received confirmation on the remaining two.
This May 13, during National Police Week, the eight names will be formally dedicated during the annual ceremony.
Missing Idaho names to be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.:
Boise County Deputy Sheriff V. Walter Coffin, April 18, 1883: Deputized by the Boise County sheriff to assist in the search for two murder suspects, he was shot and killed when he went to a cabin where the men were staying.
Bingham County Deputy Sheriff Elbert P. Sweet, Sept. 25, 1904: Shot and killed in Blackfoot while responding to a report that two men were robbing Japanese railroad workers.
Bannock County Deputy Sheriff W. J. McFadden, Aug. 25, 1913: Shot and killed in Grace by a bootlegger he was trying to arrest.
Bannock County Deputy Sheriff L. J. Taylor, Dec. 11, 1914: Shot and killed in a jail by a prisoner who had a gun that had been smuggled into the jail.
Power County Deputy Sheriff Charles H. Torrance, March 17, 1921: Shot by an assailant; he died three days later.
Gem County Sheriff Nathan Herbert Suitter, May 17, 1926: Died from head injuries suffered during a fall while making an arrest.
Fruitland Police Department Officer Morley H. Cannon, May 11, 1969: A passenger in a police car attempting to overtake a speeder, he was killed when the vehicle struck a utility pole.
Clearwater County Deputy Sheriff Scott W. Palmer, Dec. 1, 2001: Died from a heart attack shortly after assisting in a search for a lost hunter.
By the numbers: Killed in the line of duty
900,000: Sworn law enforcement officers now serving in the United States, the highest number ever. About 12 percent are female.
20,879: Names of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty since 1791 engraved on the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
1,439: Law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty from 2006 to 2015, an average of one death every 61 hours, or 144 per year.
292: Female officers listed on the memorial; 11 female officers were killed in 2015.
1920s: The deadliest decade in law enforcement history, when 2,437 officers died, almost 243 per year. The deadliest year was 1930, when 304 officers were killed.
72: Officers killed on the deadliest day in law enforcement history, Sept. 11, 2001, while responding to the terrorist attacks in America.
1,682: Officers killed in the line of duty in Texas, more than any other state. The state with the fewest deaths is Vermont, with 23.
42: Idaho officers shot to death in the line of duty since 1883, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the 71 officers killed. Thirteen died in car crashes, and three had heart attacks. Other causes of death include drowning, stabbing, falling from a horse, being hit by a car and dying in a bomb blast.
3: The most Idaho officers killed in a single year — in 2001, 1989, 1928 and 1924.
1: Idaho State Police Trooper Linda Huff is the only female among the 71 officers killed.
Source: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, Idaho Peace Officers Memorial