Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Washington Deputies Critically Wounded in Shootout, and it's Deja Vu All Over Again

Last night, two Sheriff's Deputies in Pierce County, Washington responded to a call about a drunken man who was refusing to leave his brother's house, where his daughter was staying.  The man cooperated with the deputies and was apparently getting ready to go with them when he began firing a gun he was concealing under some clothes he was holding.  In the ensuing shootout, both deputies were wounded and the suspect was killed.  The brother and daughter pulled at least one of the deputies to safety and began first aid, and the daughter ran to the neighbors to call 911.  Sgt. Nick Hauser is in serious condition.  Deputy Kent Mundell is in critical condition with what are described as "life threatening injuries."

If you're not from the area, you may not know where Pierce County is, so I'll help you out.  It's south of Seattle, and includes the town of Parkland.  Parkland is the next town over from Lakewood, Washington, whose police department lost four officers in an ambush at a Parkland coffee shop late last month.  The first responders to those shootings were deputies from the Pierce County Sherriff's Department.

Not surprisingly, the call last night for two deputies down seemed a little surreal to a lot of the deputies in Pierce County.  Police personnel being shot, particularly being ambushed, is just not that common.  To have it happen twice in a month is unheard of.  The AP quotes the Sheriff's Department spokesperson as saying,
I think some people, when the call went out, didn't believe it was real.
In the light of day, this morning, the same spokesperson told the Seattle Times,
It's pretty sad how well and good we are about this, with the cooperation between agencies and taking care of families.
I think we can all understand that this is not the sort of thing you want to be skilled at, because it is not the sort of thing you want to need to be skilled at.

If you work in Pierce County law enforcement, or even in the Seattle area (since a Seattle officer was ambushed on Halloween as well), you have to feel a little like you're walking around with a great big target on your head.  One officer commented that they are trained to keep themselves safe during raids on drug houses and things like that.  They aren't used to people shooting at them out of nowhere.  But now, that's exactly what's happened, three times in a row.

The shooting of a police officer, particularly if he or she dies, is the worst call any officer can go out on.  It's hard to be professional when your buddy has been killed.  It's nearly impossible when you realize how easily it could have been you, or could be you in the future.  These deputies didn't do anything wrong.  They didn't make any rookie mistakes.  They just had the bad luck to be where some crazy guy wanted to shoot cops.  That could have been anyone in the department.  Each and every deputy is going to have to make his or her peace with that.

There are still several deputies who are out on leave following the Lakewood shootings last month.  That wasn't even their own department, and those deputies are too traumatized to work.  Now it's happened again, and it is their department.  How do they process this and tell themselves this is still really unusual?  Or do they have to readjust to the new normal, one where folks in Pierce County have gotten the idea to shoot at police if they can?  Either way, you have to imagine it's going to be a long way back.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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