Sheriff's deputies in Caldwell County are approaching each call with more caution after six of the department's 28 deputies have been shot in the line of duty within an 11-month span.
The Charlotte Observer reports that the six deputies shot - two in three separate incidents - equal the number of officer shootings the department has had in the last 11 years, according to the State Bureau of Investigation.
Only one of the deputies has been killed, a rookie who was shot in November. The five injured deputies are recovering: Three are back at work full time, and the others are expected to return to full-time duty.
Sheriff Alan Jones says the shootings were coincidental.
"When somebody sets their mind to ambush you, there's not much you can do ... It can happen anytime," Jones said.
But the shootings have changed how deputies respond to calls and interact with people. More than that, they've changed the way deputies perceive their jobs and approach each call even in situations with little apparent risk.
"If you're not scared, you're stupid," says Sgt. Tom McManus, who was shot in the arm while responding to a dog dispute in May. "Everybody's scared."
After all the shootings, Jones has instructed his deputies to wait for backup as often as they can. Jones has added training for deputies over the last year. They practice shooting various firearms, driving in emergencies and pulling "injured" officers from crossfire.
Ideally, a deputy would wait for backup on every call, says Jerry Monette, who heads the N.C. Sheriff's Association and serves as sheriff in rural Craven County down east.
"But many times someone else's life is in danger," he says. "If there's a serious threat to life, he has to respond. He has to act."
Last Sept. 19, Deputy Adam Klutz was dispatched to investigate a 911 hang-up. When he reached the caller's location, he radioed that it was a domestic dispute between husband and wife. As he blinked his flashlight to let deputies know where he was, a man hiding in the bushes opened fire with an assault rifle. He blew out the windows in and flattened tires on one cruiser. One shot bounced off a deputy's bulletproof vest.
The shooter then turned his gun on Klutz.
Deputy Mark Isaacs remembers lifting Klutz into the back seat of a cruiser, then delivering him to paramedics.
"I knew he was gone," Isaacs says.
As for the suspects in the shootings, one was killed in a shootout with officers and another faces a September trial after he was charged with trying to kill law enforcement officers. Skip Brinkley, the man police say killed deputy Klutz, took his own life.
Still, the rash of shootings has officers on edge, says Captain Mike Longo.
"It takes a different person (to do this job) ...," says Longo, who was shot in the shoulder during the SWAT arrest. "But that doesn't mean we're made of steel."
In all of North Carolina, there were 108 officers shot in its 100 counties in 2007, the most recent figures available. Rural policing experts can't remember a time in the state when so many officers in one department were shot in such a short span.
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