Law enforcement reacts as January sees 24 police officers shot, including 4 killed

"The worst I have ever seen," said the head of the Fraternal Order of Police.

January 28, 2022, 5:26 PM

At around 10 p.m. on the night of Jan. 7, police officers in Farmington, New Mexico, responded to reports of a drunk driver in town.

At a traffic stop, the suspect, Elias Buck, allegedly produced a gun and fired three shots, one of which hit Officer Joseph Barreto, before Buck fled the scene.

"It could have been so much worse," Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe told ABC News in an interview Friday. It was the first time there'd been an officer-involved shooting in the community, he said.

"We were worried about where the suspect was, were any of our officers going to be shot as we were trying to chase him down," Hebbe said. "There's a lot of pressure that you feel and worry that we're going to be in a gunfight, he's already shot an officer," he continued.

Buck had allegedly escaped from county jail on Dec. 27 and had been on the run before being caught two weeks after the shooting occurred in Phoenix, Arizona, Hebbe said.

Officer Barreto was one of 24 police officers shot in January, according to statistics compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit website that tracks shootings.

Three of the officer deaths were on-duty deaths, and one was an off-duty officer shot and killed during an attempted robbery.

PHOTO: In an undated photo released by the NYPD, New York Police Department officer Jason Rivera, (L) who was killed in a police shooting, Jan. 21, 2022, in New York, is seen. Fellow officer Wilbert Mora, (R), was critically wounded in the shooting.
In an undated photo released by the NYPD, New York Police Department officer Jason Rivera (L) and fellow officer Wilbert Mora, (R) died from their injuries from a shooting, Jan. 21, 2022, in New York.
New York Police Department

Those deaths include two New York City police officers and a Harris County constable in Texas who died by gunfire while on duty, according to their respective departments.

By comparison, in all of the month of January in 2020 and 2021, 17 police officers were shot, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Constable Cpl. Charles Galloway is pictured in this undated photo provided by the Harris County, Texas Constable Precinct. He was fatally shot during a traffic stop in Houston, on Jan. 23, 2022.
Harris County Constable Precinct via AP

"As crime rates continue to rise, the violence directed at law enforcement officers is skyrocketing," Patrick Yoes, the President of the Fraternal Order of Police said in a statement." I have worked in law enforcement for 36 years, and the current level of violence targeted at our law enforcement officers is the worst I have ever seen."

After a Washington, D.C., police officer was shot this month, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee said in video posted to the Department's twitter account, the shooting was a "very real example of the dangers our officers face" when protecting the community.

Contee said the officer is recovering.

Laura Cooper, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a group comprised of chiefs from cities big and small, told ABC News these shootings represent a "complete disregard for law enforcement, the job they do and the sanctity of life."

"Consequences must be high and accountability must be enforced," she said.

Others in law enforcement feel the same.

Bill Brooks, the police chief in Norwood, Massachusetts, told ABC News that in some ways, the uptick in shooting has to do with "anti-police sentiment which may embolden some criminals."

"They see that one way to avoid going into police custody is to shoot it out with police," Brooks, who also serves on the International Chiefs of Police Board of Directors said.

In total, 2021 was the deadliest year for law enforcement, with 458 law enforcement officers dying in the line of duty -- up 55% from 2020, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund.

The vast majority of deaths -- 301 -- were due to COVID-19, according to the report, the second year in a row COVID-19 was the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths. The vaccination status of the 301 officers who died is not known.

The number of officers killed by a gun increased 36% from 2020, with 62 occurring in 2021.