Police officers are facing a high-risk environment with opioid-fueled junkies who think they have “superhuman strength” — dramatically raising the stakes in violent encounters, law enforcement experts and forensic psychologists say.
In each of three killings of New England police officers in the past three months, the suspects had significant drug histories and are alleged to have acted with extreme violence — essentially executing Weymouth police Sgt. Michael Chesna and Maine Sheriff’s Deputy Eugene Cole, while ambushing Yarmouth police Sgt. Sean Gannon and his K-9 dog.
“There’s no question the abuse of narcotics leads to assaultive behavior,” said former Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis. “It’s a challenge to the men and women out there protecting everyone else.”
Davis said drug abusers “seem to act as if they have superhuman strength” — which makes walking the beat all the more treacherous. He blamed it on the spread of the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl, heroin and other drugs.
Gregg O. McCrary, a former FBI agent and forensic psychologist, warned of the danger of a copycat phenomenon, saying, “Police will face high risk in the next few weeks because we’ve seen a cluster of police shootings.”
McCrary said the killings — including Sunday’s slaying of Chesna, 42, by a known drug addict — coupled with the region’s opioid epidemic, creates a worrisome “contagion factor.”
“Drugs users are uninhibited, that’s part of the problem,” McCrary told the Herald. “But when police are shot, it plants the idea in people’s minds that it’s OK.”
The widespread criticism and the erosion of respect for police in recent years, added former New York City cop and prosecutor Eugene O’Donnell, is to blame for what he called a “horrific” situation.
“We’re seeing full-frontal disrespect of police,” said O’Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “That signals to unstable people that it’s OK to attack police.
“Police are now in conflict-avoidance ... and they are left to do the work nobody is defending,” O’Donnell added. “Police have been orphaned.”
Emanuel Lopes, 20 — who was out on bail for allegedly dealing cocaine to kids and had significant drug problems — is accused of killing Chesna Sunday in Weymouth after a car crash and the bizarre vandalism of a house, dropping Chesna with a rock before taking his gun and pumping him full of bullets.
Yarmouth police Sgt. Sean Gannon, 32, was ambushed and shot dead April 12 in a Barnstable house while searching for Thomas Latanowich, 29, a violent career criminal with multiple prior drug charges who was wanted for a probation violation.
In Maine, suspect John Daniel Williams, 29, told investigators he “eliminated” Sheriff’s Deputy Eugene Cole, 61, with a bullet to the head early on April 25. Williams reportedly was angry that Cole had arrested his girlfriend days earlier. Williams also has a history of drug arrests and incidents. Leading up to the killing, Williams was reportedly on a “six-day crack bender.”
Nationwide, the number of police officers killed by gunshot while on duty in the first seven months of this year has climbed by 22 percent over the same period in 2017, from 27 last year to 33 this year, according to National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson said yesterday he’s seen the level of disrespect grow from “the worst in our community.” He said he worries about his young officers on the front lines.
“Sometimes it feels as if we’re alone in this,” Frederickson said of the violence toward police. “This tone was set a few years ago and it’s not going away.”