All Sections

Home | Crime

Shooting reinforces dangers of police work

New Hampshire Sunday News

May 17. 2014 11:25PM
With the American flag at half-staff, the local library paid tribute to Officer Stephen Arkell and his fellow officers at the Brentwood Police Department. (Tracy McGee)

As his family and community prepares to bury slain police Officer Stephen Arkell, the effects of last Monday's tragedy in Brentwood are being felt by law enforcement agencies across the state.

Arkell died while responding to a domestic dispute at the duplex where Michael Nolan, 47, lived with his elderly father. Authorities say Nolan shot Arkell four times, fatally wounding him, before a fire and explosion engulfed the Mill Pond Road home.

Earl Sweeney is assistant commissioner of safety and the former head of the state's Police Standards and Training Council. After an officer is killed in the line of duty, he said, the PSTC and police departments will look at their policies and procedures for "lessons learned."

But the real lesson, he said, is that for law enforcement officers in agencies large or small, rural or urban, "The unpredictable and dangerous is always awaiting you at the next call or the next vehicle stop.

"Whenever an incident such as the tragic death of Officer Arkell occurs, all police officers everywhere face up to their own mortality, and their loved ones do as well," Sweeney said.

Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate, incoming president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, said in the days after such a tragedy, police chiefs reinforce the training that all officers received in the police academy.

"We have to do our jobs, and we have to go home at night to our families," he said. "And yes, we're going to run to the danger and put our lives at risk, but let's do so safely and remember what we learned in our officer survival skills."

Crate agreed that what happened in Brentwood is a sobering reminder of what all police officers and their families know.

"In New Hampshire, we're one of the safest states in the country," Crate said. "Because we don't deal with these things as often as some other communities, it hits home a little bit more, that there is a danger involved in our jobs and our communities."

Learning and improving

At the Police Standards and Training Council (PSTC) in Concord, training procedures could be updated once a report is issued on the Brentwood shooting.

"It's too early to say exactly what changes will be made, but we absolutely incorporate the findings of investigations into these incidents into our training," said Capt. Mark Bodanza, a bureau commander at PSTC.

"The safety of officers is always a top priority in our training, and we regularly review incidents like this most recent one, not only in New Hampshire but across the U.S., to make sure we are providing the most current training and best practices possible."

PSTC uses computer simulations of scenarios and situations in its training sessions, and Bodanza said information that emerges from the Brentwood shooting could be incorporated into future simulations.

Arkell, 48, a married father of two daughters, was the eighth New Hampshire police officer shot and killed in the line of duty in the past 20 years.

Jane Young, associate attorney general, said Arkell's death was exactly 25 months after Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney was shot to death when a suspected drug dealer opened fire on a team of officers serving a warrant at his house.

Among those who responded to Brentwood last Monday were one of the officers wounded in Greenland that night in 2012, as well as Greenland Police Chief Tara Laurent, Young said.

"It's what makes them . such true heroes," she said. "There they are, ready to lay down their lives again for a fellow officer, for that community."

Support from the ranks

And in the days since, the Greenland officers have been there to support the Brentwood department, she said.

"They are resilient, and they become the strength of the others because they have been through it," she said. "Brentwood can look at Greenland and look at Chief Laurent and her men, and it's what will get them through.

"Painful and dark days lie ahead, but they're there for each other."

Bodanza said officers are trained that when responding to a call for assistance, "The gold standard is always to respond to a call with another officer."

However, he said, "Given geographical constraints, budgetary and personnel restrictions, that isn't always possible. Especially on a call involving possible violence, like a domestic call, officers are trained to assess the lethality of a situation and make a determination on site whether to address the situation alone or wait for additional personnel to arrive."

Crate said most rural police departments in New Hampshire don't have the luxury of waiting for backup in such situations.

"Our job is to protect lives, and we're going to put our lives at risk to save somebody else's," he said. "I do tell my officers in a situation where there could be a dangerous call, we have to go in to prevent somebody else from dying."

Sweeney said there's no such thing as a routine call. "An officer can go from peaceful, friendly contacts with citizens one minute and the next minute find him or herself in a life or death situation."

Situations change quickly

He said Arkell probably expected the call he responded to last Monday to be a matter of sorting out what led to the dispute neighbors overheard between Nolan and his father. Instead, the encounter quickly turned deadly.

But backup might not have prevented Arkell's death, Sweeney said. "Had a second officer been with Officer Arkell at the time, two officers instead of one would likely have been ambushed and killed before they had a chance to access their firearms," he said.

Bodanza said such incidents drive home the danger that comes with wearing a badge. "You always know, in the back of your mind somewhere, how dangerous the job is and each call can be, but this brings all those fears to the surface," he said.

"I would tell everyone in uniform today, and any man or woman thinking about joining us, that this is the most prestigious and rewarding job you can have, but there is danger.

"When an officer is killed, it forces you to realize once again that with that prestige comes a commitment to lay down your life, if necessary, to keep safe the communities you are sworn to protect, and those that live in them."

Col. Robert Quinn, head of New Hampshire State Police, said he didn't change his message to his troopers after last week's shooting. "We all understand the inherent risks," he said.

"Tomorrow's another day, and we've got to worry about each and every shift," he said. "I think that just comes with the job."

Quinn said the most important thing after such a tragedy is to focus on the slain officer's family. That's what New Hampshire has done before, and will do for Steve Arkell's loved ones, he said.

"New Hampshire pulls together, and that's what makes the state special," he said. "And I'm sure that we'll all pull together behind his family."

Sunday News staff reporter Paul Feely contributed to this report.

Crime, law and justice Public Safety Social issues Brentwood Top Section Stories

More Headlines