ANTHEM, Ariz. -- The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the Anthem community held a vigil Tuesday night to remember Deputy William Coleman on the one year anniversary of his death. Coleman was gunned down by a suspected double-murderer and burglar in the early morning hours of Jan 8, 2012.
Several hundred people showed up for the dedication of a memorial to Coleman, including his widow, Beth Coleman.
“It's amazing,” said family friend Kerry Patrick, talking about the community’s support for her longtime friend. “[Beth has] two little kids same age as my kids and the whole year has just been amazing with the public support.”
A granite memorial now marks the place where Coleman was shot by a man wielding an AR-15 assault rifle. Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies called it one of the most violent shootouts in the agency’s history.
“We're doing everything we can to make life easier for Beth [and her] great kids. It's sad,” Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said, speaking of MCSO’s continued support for the Coleman family.
But even as hundreds honored Coleman’s memory, another MCSO deputy is clinging to life. Ruben Garcia was shot while trying to make a traffic stop in the early morning hours, Tuesday – almost one year to the hour from the time Coleman died last year.
Meanwhile, Phoenix Police Officer Peter Bennett is still recovering after being shot six times by an armed suspect on Sunday night.
“Seems like not only deputy sheriffs, but police officers seem to be the target of these bad guys,” Arpaio said. “Seems like there’s a war on law enforcement.”
FBI statistics tracking violence against law enforcement nationwide show more deputies and officers murdered in each of the last four years in which numbers are available. There were 41 police officers killed in 2008, 48 in 2009, 56 in 2010 and 72 in 2011. That last number is especially disturbing because it was a rare year in which more officers were targeted to be killed rather than died in traffic crashes or other accidents.
The FBI statistics for that same time period reveal no specific trend for law enforcement killings in Arizona. The Grand Canyon State saw two officers murdered in 2008, zero in 2009, five in 2010 and three killed in 2011.
Given the recent violence, Arpaio has decided to give all his deputies automatic weapons in the near future.
“The least we can do is give them the fire power to go home safe at night,” he said.
While the national statistics do show a slight increase in the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty over the past few years, they also show a slight decrease in the number of officers assaulted.
Several local law enforcement departments and organizations contacted for this story, including the Arizona Department of Public Safety, said there is no definitive trend showing criminals are becoming more callous or aggressive toward police. Rather, they said policing always has been and always will be a dangerous job.