Ohio officer reportedly ambushed. Isolated incident or troubling trend?

Officer Thomas Cottrell was killed shortly before midnight on Sunday. Ohio police say a woman had called into authorities right before the shooting cautioning that her ex-boyfriend was hunting police officers.

Knox County Sheriff's Office/Reuters
Herschel Jones III is shown in this police booking photo provided by the Knox County Sheriff's Office in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, January 18. Mr. Jones is in custody Monday, accused of hunting police officers, after an officer in Danville, Ohio, was found dead, his gun and cruiser missing.

A police officer was fatally shot while on duty in Danville, Ohio, and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Monday.

Officer Thomas Cottrell was found dead behind the Danville Municipal Building just before midnight Sunday and his service weapon had been taken and his cruiser was missing, said in a statement early Monday.

A statement from Knox County Sheriff David Shaffer said authorities received a call at 11:20 p.m. Sunday from a woman saying that police officers in Danville were in danger, and that her ex-boyfriend, Herschel Ray Jones, had weapons and was looking to kill an officer.

Mr. Shaffer says dispatchers' attempts to reach the Danville officer were unsuccessful, and at that time the Knox County Sheriff's Office began a search of the area.

About 20 minutes after the initial call from Mr. Jones' girlfriend, Officer Cottrell was found dead. Just after 1:30 a.m., Jones was captured after a brief foot chase, officials said.

Instances of police killings may appear to be on the rise, given the coverage of the tragic shooting deaths of Deputy Darren Goforth in Houston in 2015, and New York Police Department Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos New York City in 2014, among others. Some observers have suggested that the recently intensified scrutiny of police officers may have inspired a new trend of police ambushes.  

However, data from the Officer Down Memorial website indicates that, to the contrary, homicides of police officers have sharply declined over the past half century. The average over the past 50 years is 186 intentional officer deaths annually, while in the last decade the figure is 65. In 2015 there were 129 deaths of officers in the line of duty, but only 55 officers died of intentional causes.

Columnist Lisa Falkenberg wrote for the Houston Chronicle last September that the scrutiny of those in uniform following a spate of deaths of black people at the hands of officers has not precipitated violence toward officers. She writes:

A spokesman for [the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund], Steve Groeninger, says he sees no evidence that officers are increasingly being killed because of their jobs. The rise in fatalities, he points out, has a great deal to do with the fact that traffic-related incidents are up 26 percent compared with last year. In the past 12 months, Groeninger has counted six officers who appear to have been slain because they worked in law enforcement. That includes Goforth and the two New York City officers who were shot to death in December as they sat in their patrol car. Groeninger said he has not seen "a tangible connection" between such targeted killings and recent protests and media attention following a string of police shootings involving unarmed black men."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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