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Associated Press
A memorial for Indianapolis police officer Perry Renn sits outside the north district police headquarters in Indianapolis on Sunday.

We all have role in encounters with the police

After three Hoosier police officers died within eight days, Gov. Mike Pence ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in each officer’s county on the day of his services. But these tragedies resonate throughout the state. All of us should grieve when someone dies, as these men did, trying to protect their community.

Funeral arrangements for the two Indiana police officers who were shot to death over the weekend hadn’t been set when Fort Wayne Police Chief Garry Hamilton spoke with us Monday. But Hamilton said some of his officers would be attending both services, and that he planned to attend at least one.

Hamilton wrote emails to the police chiefs in Gary and Indianapolis, offering his condolences to the departments and the families of the fallen officers.

Only a few days before the shooting deaths of Indianapolis officer Perry Renn, 51, and Gary officer Jeffrey Westerfield, 47, a Tipton County sheriff’s deputy, 31-year-old Jacob Calvin, died when his cruiser crashed as he was on his way to help an accident victim.

“When you put on the uniform,” Hamilton said, “you always have to wonder whether you’ll return home or not.”

At a staff meeting on Monday, Fort Wayne police commanders underscored that “officers have to be very vigilant in dealing with the people they encounter,” Hamilton said. He wants his officers to have the best equipment and the best training they can get to deal with potentially deadly situations.

“As chief, you worry about those things every night when you go home,” Hamilton said. As they go about their business, “are my officers being safe enough?”

Renn, the Indianapolis officer, was slain when he and a partner confronted a man who opened fire on them with an AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifle.

The man who was charged with the killing, who was also badly injured in the gunfight, is reported to have a long criminal history.

Hamilton, who said he was unfamiliar with the details of the case, noted that ex-felons should never have access to a weapon like that.

Some would say that shootings like the one in Indianapolis argue for police to amp up their weaponry to avoid being outgunned. But some Fort Wayne police officers already have AR-15 assault rifles available in their patrol cars, though they typically rely on their sidearms when dealing with the public.

Officers shouldn’t have to wonder whether they have enough firepower to ensure their own and the public’s safety. The tragic death of Officer Renn is yet another indication of the need for Indiana’s governor and legislators to shrug off the NRA’s spell and look seriously at adding some sensible gun restrictions.

To Hamilton, the availability of a particular type of weapon is less of an issue than the need for effective background checks to prevent criminals from getting guns.

As tragedies like this continue to occur, though, the case for allowing gun manufacturers to flood the country with assault rifles so that hunters can enjoy shooting them becomes ever weaker and ever more absurd.

However each of us stands on gun laws, there is something that we can all do to help the police. Understand where they’re coming from.

If an officer stops your vehicle, keep your hands visible and avoid moving around in the car as he or she approaches. Don’t take offense if a backup car arrives – it’s meant to ensure officer safety, not to intimidate you.

To honor the officers who died this weekend, resolve to help and respect the officers here who spend their days and their nights trying to make our city safe.