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Matthew T. Mangino: Ambush of police officers is a growing problem

Hundreds of Pennsylvania state troopers, along with law enforcement officers from across the Northeast, are combing the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania looking for Eric Matthew Frein, who allegedly ambushed two state troopers in the barrack’s parking lot in Blooming Grove, Pennsylvania.

The towns and villages surround Blooming Grove are in the midst of one of the largest manhunts in state history. Local residents have lived under a near para-military occupation with a “shelter in place” order, road closures, SWAT teams and assault vehicles rolling through the streets.

The search being conducted in eastern Pennsylvania may be unprecedented, but the ambush of law enforcement officers is not. Between 1990 and 2012, more than 1,200 law enforcement officers were murdered. About one in six of those murders were fatal ambushes, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).

According to the IACP, there are two types of ambushes. The traditional ambush is the “entrapment,” a premeditated attack, where the offender lures an unsuspecting officer into a location to carry out the ambush.

The second type is the “spontaneous” ambush. These are unprovoked attacks without long-term planning often considered “crimes of opportunity.” The offender makes the decision at the time of the officer’s approach and surprises the officer with an unprovoked assault.

The Pennsylvania attack and escape was meticulously planned. At a press conference, Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens said that troopers tracking Frein have located various items that the suspect either left behind or stored beforehand. “Based on our investigations, we know that Frein has planned and prepared extensively for months and maybe years,” Bivens said.

In July, a 23-year-old Jersey City police officer was brutally ambushed. According to The Star-Ledger, the killer walked into a Jersey City drug store, assaulted a security guard, stole his gun and waited for the police to arrive. When a young officer responded to the call, he was shot in the head before he could get out of his patrol car.

It’s been a year since a Kentucky police officer was gunned down in an ambush by someone who “planted” tree limbs in the road to trick a vehicle into stopping. A Bardstown Police officer was heading home from a late-night shift. He stopped to remove the debris from the roadway and was shot multiple times with a shotgun.

An unusual aspect of the Kentucky killing is that it remains unsolved. The unsolved slaying of a police officer is a rarity in the United States, reported the Associated Press. According to the FBI, only eight police officer killings have gone unsolved in the U.S. between 1996 and 2012.

In a report recently released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the number of law enforcement professionals killed nationwide jumped 31 percent during the first half of 2014, compared to the same time in 2013. As of June 30, 25 officers were killed by gunfire — a 56 percent increase over last year’s figures — including five in ambush attacks. Those numbers have increased at least to 27 gunfire killings and seven ambushes.

Since 1990, the numbers of ambushes dropped from a peak of 526 in 1991, to a low of 196 in 2001, but it has crept up, reaching 267 in 2012, according to the IACP.

“Looking at 2009, about 31 percent of shooting (deaths) were ambushes,” Robert J. Kaminski, Ph.D., an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, told the Standard Speaker. That was the high-water mark for ambush killings of police officers — unfortunately 2014 may soon set the standard for senseless premeditated murder of police officers.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.