April 22, 2013 9:09:43 AM
JACKSON -- Over the past decade, more Mississippi law enforcement officers have been shot to death with their service weapons than suspects' guns.
"It suggests to me they need to be better trained in weapons' retention," said Alan Thompson, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Since 2004, 13 law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty in Mississippi, according to FBI's Uniform Crime Reports and the Officer Down Memorial Page. Guns killed all but three, who were hit by cars.
Of those killed by gunfire, 60 percent were killed with service weapons that belonged to them or their partner, with the remainder dying at the hands of criminals' guns.
That's far higher than the national average of 10 percent, according to 2000-2010 data analyzed by The Washington Post.
The high Mississippi numbers don't surprise Ron Crew, longtime instructor and coordinator for the state's Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy. "It's a common error if we become complacent."
Each officer who goes through training hears Crew bark the same line: "Every call you go to, you have a gun there -- it's yours."
Since 2008, the numbers of officers killed in the line of duty has been rising in the U.S. So far this year, 15 have been shot to death, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
The only officer killed so far with his own gun was in Mississippi.
That happened April 4 when a homicide suspect inside the interview room overpowered Jackson police Detective Eric Smith and shot him to death with his own gun.
It's not the first time a Jackson police officer has been shot to death with his service weapon.
On Aug. 6, 2010, Patrolman Glen Agee, who had been on the force two months, and another officer were transporting a prisoner to the Hinds County Detention Center when the inmate complained he was having trouble breathing.
The officers lowered the window, and the inmate managed to escape out the door at a red light, despite being handcuffed behind the back.
Both officers pursued the inmate. When Agee caught up with him, the two struggled, and Agee was shot to death with his 9 mm semiautomatic handgun.
On Feb. 4, 1992, Jackson police Sgt. Rickey Joe Simmons was shot and killed with his own weapon after struggling with a mental patient.
Jackson police run their own training academy. Most law enforcement agencies in Mississippi train at the Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy.
Under state law, city police officers must undergo at least 24 hours of in-service training each year. There is no such requirement, however, for deputies.
On Dec. 3, 2010, two Tippah County sheriff's deputies responded to a 4:30 a.m. domestic disturbance call.
When they encountered the suspect, he grabbed the service handgun from one deputy and shot and killed the other. The gun jammed, enabling the deputy to subdue him.
"What is not habit, you forget," Crew said. "Fatigue can come into play and how hectic it is."
When budget cutbacks come, training is often among the first things to go, he said.
Each rookie going through the academy gets 400 hours of training, including 44 hours on defensive tactics.
Even with the best training, things can go wrong, Crew said.
Timothy Lee Webster had been working for two months as a police officer for Crystal Springs when he was shot and killed Aug. 13, 2005, while pursuing a man who fled on foot at night.
After a struggle, the man grabbed the officer's 45-caliber semiautomatic handgun and shot him in the chest just above his bulletproof vest. Webster failed to have backup, Crew said.
A decade ago, the FBI did both lectures and training on defensive tactics aimed at reducing the numbers of officers shot by service weapons, he said.
The lectures alone helped reduce incidents 72 percent, he said.
Over the years, he has received letters from those he trained. One included an officer who survived a severe attack.
He had been repeatedly stabbed but kept protecting his service weapon, Crew said. "He thanked me for saving his life."
Officers need to plan in advance for the possibility someone may try to seize their weapons, he said. "The bad guys already have a plan."
Retention holsters can make it more difficult for a suspect to remove an officer's gun, said Crew, who is teaching defensive tactics in June to the national police in Thailand.
On Nov. 27, 2005, two officers in Wiggins, 24-year veteran Edward Odell Fite and narcotics investigator Brandon Douglas Breland, responded to a domestic disturbance call.
When the officers asked the 6-foot-4 man to step outside, he jumped them both and wrestled them to the ground. He managed to grab an officer's .40-caliber semiautomatic service handgun and killed both officers.
It was someone they knew, and "they got surprised," Crew said. "If the bad guy has ambush on his mind, an officer can do everything right, and it still goes bad."