It is always a shock to the senses to hear the grim news that a cop has died on the job. It happens far too often -- in 2018, 144 officers died in the line of duty, marking a 12% increase from 2017, according to a new preliminary report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Wednesday, Officer Ronil Singh of the Newman Police Department in California was fatally shot after he pulled a driver over. Police officers are all too aware that every time they stop an unknown motorist and approach the vehicle, what might initially begin as a routine traffic stop can quickly escalate to fatal violence. The 33-year-old Singh, an immigrant from Fiji, leaves behind a devastated wife and 5-month old son, as well as members of the law enforcement community who are distraught over the loss.
Gustavo Perez Arriaga, who was taken into custody Friday in connection to Singh's killing, is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico with two previous DUI arrests, according to Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson. Singh's death has reignited the contentious immigration debate and President Donald Trump used the opportunity to double down on his calls for a border wall. On Twitter, he referred to Singh's death and wrote, "Time to get tough on Border Security. Build the Wall!"
It became increasingly difficult to ignore the debate Friday afternoon when Christianson held a news conference to announce Arriaga's apprehension. While he said he did not want to politicize Singh's death, he went on to blame the state's sanctuary law, Senate Bill 54, which bars enforcement agencies from using their resources to help with immigration enforcement .
There will be plenty of opportunities to debate the merits and pitfalls of comprehensive immigration reform and the southern border wall at the heart of the government shutdown battle. But it is important to understand just why the killing of a police officer in particular is such a serious criminal offense.
When police are targeted for assassinations or brazenly attacked, the disruption in public order profoundly affects the community. Who can ever feel safe if there exists a type of outlaw that can brazenly strike down officers who are entrusted to keep us safe? If armed officers are rendered vulnerable or impotent, what does that say for the rest of us?
My visceral connection to the pain associated with Singh's comrades in the department comes from decades spent attending cop funerals. No matter where they take place, long rows of starched blue uniforms and crisp salutes line the path from hearse to sanctuary. The silent honor guard stands watch over the flag-draped casket, as the mournful sound of bagpipes fills the air and inconsolable "tough guys" sob in the back row.
The constant reminder of the hazards of our chosen profession is exactly why law enforcement is relentless in the hunt for an accused cop killer. It is about the pursuit of justice and holding those who dare to cross the line accountable. When Arriaga was finally taken into custody Friday, he was fittingly shackled in Singh's handcuffs. While Arriaga is innocent until proven guilty, this symbol of accountability was a small measure of satisfaction among officers who share an everlasting bond with those who perish in the line of duty.
The arrest of an accused cop killer signifies a return to public order, declares that such an egregious offense is not to be tolerated in a free and civil society, and allows citizens to breathe a sigh of relief. I hope Arriaga's capture may bring some solace to Singh's family and colleagues.
In describing the arrest to reporters, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood lauded the interagency cooperative effort and then cautioned those predisposed to attack law enforcement: "When you use a firearm against a police officer, you can run but you can't hide." Let that be a warning.
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