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Officers did their jobs

January 30, 2019

“We have an officer down!” Those words, like no other, can jolt us into the reality of the dangers police officers can face on any given day.

That day arrived Monday for five Houston narcotics officers wounded and injured in a hail of gunfire that erupted during a drug bust at a Pecan Park home. A man and a woman suspected of selling black tar heroin were shot and killed.

This was no fantasy copy show on TV where the stars never get hit. Television news coverage of the aftermath reminded viewers that real lives are at stake when officers find themselves dodging bullets. These officers will likely have scars, visible and invisible, that will never let them forget. .

Trouble was expected when the undercover officers arrived to serve a search warrant at a suspected drug house in the 7800 block of Harding Street. They used a ram to bust down the door only to be greeted by a pit bull that was shot after it reportedly lunged. Killed in the ensuing exchange of gunfire were a husband and wife who police believed were heroin dealers — Rhogena Nicholas, 58, and Dennis Tuttle, 59.

One officer shot in the shoulder was released Monday night from the hospital. Two officers wounded in the face remained in the hospital Tuesday. So did a fourth officer, who injured his knee.

Dr. Michelle McNutt, chief of trauma surgery at Memorial Hermann Hospital, said the family of the fifth officer had requested that the hospital not disclose any information on him. Police Chief Art Acevedo described that officer as being “in a fight” for his life. The chief encouraged prayer for the officer’s recovery.

The entire city should find ways to show appreciation not only for these brave officers but for all the men and women who have taken a pledge to put themselves in harm’s way to protect and serve the public. Thank an officer for his or her service. Contribute to a relief fund. Visit the police officers memorial in Buffalo Bayou Park. Or, offer a token of gratitude — as Kenny & Ziggy’s did Tuesday with free meals for uniformed officers.

Seeing their fellow officers taken to the hospital on stretchers, not knowing how, when or whether they will recover from their wounds can be emotionally trying. So, it was understandable but regrettable when Houston Police Officers’ Union President Joe Gamaldi suggested the officers’ shooting was grounds for some type of vendetta.

“We are sick and tired of having targets on our back,” Gamaldi said. “We are sick and tired of dirt bags trying to take our lives when all we’re trying to do is protect this community and our families. Enough is enough. If you’re the ones out there spreading the rhetoric that police officers are the enemy, well just know we’ve all got your number now. We’re going to be keeping track on all of y’all, and we’re going to make sure to hold you accountable every time you stir the pot on our police officers.”

Gamaldi started his career as a cop in New York 14 years ago, so he doesn’t need to be lectured about the job. He knows the task is often thankless. He knows there are neighborhoods overtaken by criminals where residents fear cooperating with the police could be a death sentence. But he also knows most people in those embattled neighborhoods are glad the police come when they need them.

In fact, it reportedly was a tip from a neighbor who noticed strange comings and goings that led to the police raid.

What this city needs now is solidarity in support of the good guys trying to keep us safe. Divisive words may harm hard-earned trust between police and community partners, and could send the message that legitimate complaints won’t be handled fairly.

We agree that the sacrifices of police officers deserve greater acknowledgment and admiration.The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund says more than 21,500 officers have been killed in the line of duty since 1791, including 47 fatally shot last year. Such dedication should demand respect. And that is more easily inspired by words of unity.

Words like Chief Acevedo used to describe Houston the night of the shooting: “I’ve never seen such a loving relationship between police and a city.”

With five police officers trying to recover from wounds and injuries suffered in a gunfight, Houston should take a moment to reflect on those officers’ willingness to walk into a house knowing they might not come out alive because a neighborhood had asked them for help. The cops did their jobs. The city should be thankful, and as Acevedo suggested, remember them in prayer.

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