Hoppy’s Commentary for Tuesday

The murders of two West Virginia State Troopers and the serious wounding of a sheriff’s deputy one week ago have cut deeply into the psyche of our state and its police officers. 

Corporal Marshall Bailey and Trooper Eric Workman were, by all accounts, doing their duty in a responsible and humane manner when Luke Baber shot and killed them.

Baber was a troubled 22-year-old from Fayette County who had stolen a pick-up and was joy riding, while drunk or on drugs or both, on I-79 when Bailey and Workman pulled him over.

The troopers searched Baber, but missed a gun he had hidden in his pants.  The troopers put the cuffs on Baber with his hands in front of him, which turned out to be a fatal decision.  Baber was able to grab his gun, kill both troopers, and then shoot and wound a tow truck driver and a sheriff’s deputy before deputies shot and killed him. 

The Charleston Gazette reported that a friend of Bailey’s said it was common for Bailey to handcuff people with their hands in front of them.  “He never put their hands behind their back unless they gave him a reason to,” Chris Holcomb told the Gazette.

Police mostly make the news when they use force.  Thus, the overly simplistic view of the police is that they are tough men and women with the law on their side and guns in their holsters.  And the police, by nature of the job, do get into their fair share of scrapes. 

More often than not, however, they are peacekeepers who use force only as a last option.  Many officers can go through their careers without ever firing their service revolvers in the line of duty.  

They defuse tense situations, restore calm and frequently try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  They know from their training and experience that escalation increases the likelihood of someone getting hurt. 

It sounds like Corporal Bailey understood that.  If Baber was not putting up a fuss, then there was no need to make it rougher on the suspect than necessary.  Tragically, the goodwill of the troopers was met by evil in Baber. 

Now, given the horrible outcome of last Tuesday, it’s hard to imagine law enforcement officers cutting a suspect any slack.  Baber’s willful rampage not only took two lives and damaged two others, but it also made the job of keeping the peace in West Virginia even more stressful and challenging.

State Police Superintendent Colonel Jay Smithers recognized that in his remarks during Sunday’s memorial service for Corporal Bailey.

“It’s my sincere hope and prayer that each of us will refuse to become discouraged by the events that caused us to be here today and we’ll remain steadfast in our duties as peacemakers so that we may also receive our heavenly reward,” Smithers said.

Hundreds of state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and city police officers from across the state, and even more from across the country, attended Corporal Bailey’s memorial service Sunday.  Just as many officers will be at Workman’s service tomorrow. 

Then they’ll head back to their respective jurisdictions and return to their jobs. The routine will settle in again.  But they may never view the risk and responsibility that goes with being a police officer in quite the same way. 






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