By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
The shooting of a Laramie County Sheriff’s deputy is bringing attention to the dangers that peace officers face every day.
The deputy, whose identity has not been released, was reported to be in stable condition after being taken to the intensive care unit at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center for treatment after he was wounded in a shootout with another man Saturday. The other man died in the incident.
While rare, such incidents have an impact on law enforcement officers throughout the state, said Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.
“Fortunately, we don’t have those kinds of events happen very often,” he said.
While the officer in Saturday’s incident survived, that’s not always the case.
Since Wyoming became a state in 1890, 60 law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which keeps records for law enforcement deaths throughout the country. The majority of those killed – 36 out of the 60 – died by gunfire.
Oedekoven told Cowboy State Daily that when a law enforcement officer dies or is injured while performing his or her duties, it hits the entire peacekeeping force.
“It’s a family; it’s a neighborhood, it’s a community,” he said. “It’s all of those words in very positive terms. We come together because it’s a shared experience. It’s a shared emotion. It’s that shared grief.”
Oedekoven said his association works with all other law enforcement agencies throughout the state when tragedies occur.
“Several years ago, we worked with a number of agencies to develop a plan for a checklist on officer-involved situations,” he said. “We know about federal death benefits, state death benefits, to whom to notify where those may be so that we can assess the value and assist the agency as well.”
Oedekoven has had personal experience with officer-involved shootings and the death of an officer under his command.
On Dec. 20, 1983, Officer Jon Hardy was on duty in Gillette when he was ambushed after responding to the scene of a residential burglary. Oedekoven, who was Hardy’s patrol lieutenant, said that tragedy has never left him.
“There’s a whole flurry of emotions, mostly incredible sadness,” he said. “There’s the incredible desire to do right by the family and the memory of Jon, in my case; and to deal with some of the aspects of the investigation to ensure that that’s handled properly.”
Oedekoven noted that in his current position, when high-profile incidents occur, his agency works with other peace officer training organizations to incorporate lessons from tragic situations and turn them into learning opportunities.
“That is part of the discussion that we have with our Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, Peace Officer Standards and Training, and the leadership of the sheriffs and chiefs to see if there are things that we should be working on, looking at and undertaking to help understand and deal with for the future,” he said.
Oedekoven pointed out that because the majority of Wyoming communities are smaller and more rural, there is more of a sense of support for law enforcement officers than in other parts of the country.
“In Wyoming, we’re very fortunate in that our law enforcement officers are close to the community, and our community is close to our law enforcement officers,” said Oedekoven. “We have incredible support from the community, to the officer’s family, to agents that the officer works for and for the agency.”