SCOTT SIMON, host:
Police officers in the United States are dying in the line of duty at an alarming rate. More officers have been shot to death so far this year than were killed in all of 2006. The fatalities have occurred from New York City to Franconia, New Hampshire.
John Timoney is the chief of police in Miami. He joins us from member station WLRN.
Chief Timoney, thanks so much for being with us.
Chief JOHN TIMONEY (City of Miami Police Department): Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: Sixty police officers have been shot to death in the United States this year, which is, we're told, an increase of more than 50 percent from all of last year. What are some of the reasons that you think this might be the case?
Chief TIMONEY: On quite a few of these shootings, not just automatic weapons, but assault rifles had been used, number one. Number two, there seems to be, as you look across the United States, situations where almost like a routine call, if you will - as a police officer approaches, the subject without warning just opens up on the police officer. Quite a few of them having head shots, so clearly there's a recognition that police officers wear bullet-proof vests.
And then there seems to be, and this is hard to tell, if in fact there is a culture growing up that to get advantage of the police officer, shoot immediately. So it isn't this traditional situation where a police officer interrupts, you know, a bank robbery or a liquor store holdup and you have a gunfight. These are all, as best as I can tell, one-way situations where the police officer without any kind of prior notice is just shot and killed.
SIMON: Is the kind of weaponry that criminals are able to acquire growing more powerful?
Chief TIMONEY: Oh, without a doubt. The federal assault weapons ban went into effect 10 years ago, some said about a year and a half ago, two years ago. And certainly, in South Florida, we see in the markets here are being flooded by these assault rifles.
There's so many of them on the market it's driving down the prices, so that you can get these weapons for under $300. They're much more powerful in the bullet themselves and then there's more of them. So instead of 10 shooter, you now have 30 rounds.
SIMON: $300 for an assault weapon. It's cheaper than an iPod.
Chief TIMONEY: It's cheaper than an iPod. It's cheaper than my Glock. And it also has this kind of macho image from television and the movies. I don't think you can underestimate the power of television and the movies in this situation.
Just in my career, they've gone from Saturday night specials, all the way up to AK-47s, Tech-9s. What is the police officer going to face 10 years from now? It will be Rambo becomes reality, unless something is done and has to be done on the national level.
SIMON: You're suggesting greater gun control, it sounds like.
Chief TIMONEY: Absolutely. Listen, I'm fully aware Congress (unintelligible) support about the Second Amendment. But there's no way anybody can convince me that an ordinary citizen should be walking around the streets of our cities carrying a military assault weapon. I mean, that's just ridiculous.
SIMON: How do you react to the argument, chief, that people who are criminals and determine to use them for violent means are always going to figure out a way to get hold of these weapons?
Chief TIMONEY: Well, I don't think that's true. If you look at homicides, for example, if you look at a place like New York City where I came from - that has a pretty good gun control legislation at hand - you'll see that the proportion of homicides committed will be below 60, 62 percent, 63 maybe.
You go to places where guns are easy to get - Philadelphia, which is part of Pennsylvania, which is the second highest gun state in the nation - 85 percent of the homicides will be committed by guns.
So just 90 miles south of New York City, in Philadelphia, you'll see a 22 percent increase in gun homicides.
SIMON: Chief Timoney, are you at all concerned that police officers across the country will have their morale affected or, even more substantially, they're going to be more reluctant to go into a dark alley, more reluctant to answer a call in certain streets?
Chief TIMONEY: I don't see that right now. I don't expect to see it. Sometimes, my complaint of police officers is sometimes they're too brave for their own good. And what we're trying to do is teach them good tactics to take the extra half a second for their own safety.
I think it's tactics like that and then other equipment that over the years has proved beneficial in reducing the number of police officers killed in the line of duty. Which is why, people like myself, are becoming quite concerned with this huge increase.
SIMON: John Timoney, chief of the Miami Police, thanks very much.
Chief TIMONEY: Thank you, Scott.
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