The death of Jamie Hood's brother to a police bullet in 2001 and Mr. Hood's dramatic surrender Friday in Athens, Ga., after a four-hour hostage standoff offers a provocative -- and personal -- timeline of rising tensions between police and street criminals in the last decade, leading to more bloodshed on the beat even as violent crime overall has decreased.
After being approached by two Athens-Clarke County police officers investigating a carjacking, Mr. Hood allegedly opened fire and escaped, leaving one officer dead and another seriously injured. Police tracked Hood to an apartment on Friday after he reached out to police to begin negotiating his surrender.
As he held eight women and children hostage, Hood demanded that TV cameras cover the surrender since he was afraid he'd be gunned down by police. Earlier in the evening, Georgia Bureau of Investigation director Vernon Keenan had said, in a message directed at Hood, that he "would not be harmed in any form or fashion."
The drama in Athens unfolded at a time when many US police experts believe that there's a brewing "war on cops," given a spike in the number of police officers killed in shootouts over the past 18 months. That trend accompanies a rise in the number of justified homicides by police, where the use of deadly force was found to be reasonable and lawful.
Rise in shooting of police officers
Twenty-four police officers and three federal agents have been shot in the line of duty in 2011, compared to 15 during the same period in 2010. During a 24-hour period in January, 11 police officers were shot.
Meanwhile, there were 406 justifiable homicides by police in 2009 – the largest number since the all-time high of 462 in 1994 – after having risen steadily over the previous decade.
The growing prevalence of guns and police-community distrust highlighted by the "Don't snitch" movement are all contributing to the problem, criminal justice experts say, as are intensifying worries over potential violent backlash from anti-government activists such as the "sovereign citizen" movement that claims the US government has no legal authority over Americans.
(This weekend, emergency preparedness officials in Iowa cancelled an ant-terrorism drill featuring a white supremacist school shooter after those officials received a death threat that said, "You better not come to work today because your school shooting is really going to happen.")
Moreover, Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox has described an emerging "shoot first" mentality by both police officers and armed citizens that may be compounding dangers on the beat.
"People say [police] are paranoid, but that's [crap]," says Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations. "We're not paranoid, we know [police shooters] are out there."
Justice Department: Excessive force in New Orleans
But on the streets, blame can be harder to assign. Last week, the Department of Justice released a report about the New Orleans Police Department, which indicated senior officers failed to uphold rules against excessive, even deadly, force being used in unjustifiable ways.
"Justifiable homicides [by police and citizens] are up rather starkly, and the turning point was between 2000 and 2002," says Al Blumstein, a criminal justice professor at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh.
Indeed, in Hood's case, he may not only have been carrying a grudge for the shooting of his brother, who in 2001 drew a weapon on a police officer before getting shot, but also carried a personal fear about getting killed by police.
The Athens manhunt for Jamie Hood began Tuesday after Hood shot the two officers. It ended without further injuries or loss of life at around 11 p.m. Friday night. TV cameras did roll as Hood emerged from an apartment complex in handcuffs.