Trish Bennett, Editor
CIRCLEVILLE – As the Danville Police Department prepares to bury an officer slain in the line of duty, local law enforcement agencies are taking a hard look at how to keep their own officers safe on the streets.
Officer Thomas W. Cottrell Jr., 34, was killed Jan. 17 in the small Knox County village, reportedly by a suspect whose motivation may simply have been to “kill a cop.” Cottrell was shot to death, and his body was discovered on the grounds of the Danville municipal building. He will be buried in his hometown of Newark on Saturday, with arrangements handled by the Brucker-Kishler Funeral Home.
Sheriff Robert Radcliff, Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office, said his deputies are keenly aware of the current climate in the United States regarding law enforcement officers and were already taking extra precautions while on patrol. Cottrell’s death, however, struck uncomfortably close to home.
“It just shows it can happen anywhere at any time,” Radcliff said. “The deputies are really picking where they’re sitting to do reports and that kind of thing, especially in rural areas at night so people can’t sneak up on them.”
Radcliff said dispatchers already keep close tabs on deputies on patrol, and are being even more diligent in light of recent events.
“Our dispatchers are constantly monitoring where cars are and doing check-ups,” he said. “If they don’t hear from someone in a certain amount of time, they start checking.”
Chief Doug Clark of the Ashville Police Department said there are still many unanswered questions about what happened to Cottrell the night he died, but he has discussed additional safety measures with his officers.
“I told my guys they have to be cautious of people walking up when they’re getting out of the car and to make sure they look at their surroundings,” Clark said. “This officer was killed in a town of 1,000 people, a town smaller than Ashville. I told them to keep their head up and be on guard, because you just never know.”
Chief Kendall McCoy of the South Bloomfield Police Department said he also has discussed additional safety measures with his officers, including being vigilant, mentally alert and aware of their surroundings. He also is looking into additional training that may be available regarding safe practices while on patrol.
“Danville is about the size of South Bloomfield, maybe a little smaller, so that really hit home for us,” McCoy said. “The sheriff’s office has always taken care of us, though, especially dispatchers when they know we’re out on something dangerous. We also have an internal system we use to keep track of each other.”
McCoy said even with U.S. Route 23 cutting through the center of town, he feels his officers are in a little better position than the sheriff’s deputies who patrol remote areas of the county.
“We have a lot of people keeping an eye on us just from the general public,” McCoy said. “I think that makes it a little safer for us, but there’s always that possibility we’re going to run into that one person.”
Chief Shawn Baer of the Circleville Police Department said he believes the thought process for police officers actually began before Cottrell’s death following the murder of two New York officers who were shot in their cruisers.
“One of the unfortunate changes is that at one time we liked to park in neighborhoods to write reports so we were visible and available to people,” Baer said. “But that’s a problem with an officer sitting in a car paying attention to the computer and not the area around him. It’s quickly becoming a thing of the past, which is unfortunate because it takes us away from the community where we want to be.”
Baer said city dispatchers also do regular check-ups on patrol officers, but he believes all officers in all jurisdictions also tend to check up on each other because “bad things can happen in a split second.”
“If we hear a deputy is out and there will likely be danger, we will head that way,” Baer said. “They do the same for us, we don’t even have to ask. But the sheriff’s office has their own unique set of hurdles out in remote areas, and a lot of times they’re alone on things, so we listen to the radio and make sure if they need us, we’re available.”
Clark said in his 36 years in law enforcement, he has seen a major change in citizens’ demeanor, and while officers continue to adjust to the current climate, he still finds it unfortunate.
“It used to be you could just walk up to any John Doe and carry on a conversation, but now you have to be really careful because you don’t know what they’re going to do,” Clark said. “I don’t know why people turn on police officers, because they’re out there to protect you, not just looking for someone to take to jail. They’re just trying to make the world a better place to live.”
This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal