"Every time an officer is killed in the line of duty, a part of America dies along with him," Labov said. "I think the effect is that the entire police community is startled by these deaths. They begin to serve as a constant reminder that something like this can happen anytime, any place."
Labov's group is organizing a series of one-day courses and lectures to
allow police officers in the region to discuss the deaths and share techniques and ideas about avoiding such circumstances.
The lectures and courses also will be offered throughout the nation to any interested police departments.
"We feel we need to do something to inform officers about these events and what can be done, through training and lectures, to help avoid them in the future," Labov said.
A convention called Police Security Expo '95 is scheduled to open in Atlantic City tomorrow with about 5,000 officers from around the United States. It will feature a "supermarket of information," with seminars on personal protection, body armor, and criminal restraint.
The latest in-the-line-of-duty death in South Jersey occurred June 6, after a police cruiser occupied by State Trooper Marvin R. McCloud, 31, of Westville, was struck by a speeding sport utility vehicle on the New Jersey
Turnpike. The trooper was manning a radar trap.
McCloud died the same day a funeral for Wildwood Crest Patrolman Eugene Miglio 3d was being held. Miglio, 41, of Cold Spring, suffered a fatal heart attack June 2 during a struggle with the passenger of a vehicle stopped for speeding.
Franklin Township Officer Ippolito Gonzalez, 40, was shot to death May 6 during a routine traffic stop. A convicted murderer who had recently been paroled has been charged in his death.
The first two deaths occurred April 20 when Haddon Heights Officer John Norcross and Camden County investigator John McLaughlin were gunned down while serving a warrant.
The apparent desultory nature of the deaths is what has really shaken law enforcement officers, especially since all of them occurred in rural or suburban towns.
"When things like this happen in a small community, it becomes something that people will talk about quite frequently for a long time," said Suzie Sawyer, executive director of a support group called Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), based in Camdenton, Mo. "It shakes people at their foundations because they think that it can't happen where they live. But the fact is, there are just as many of these things happening in rural areas as in big cities."
Statistically, the percentage of in-the-line-of-duty deaths in rural and suburban areas is about the same as that in the cities, according to Alfred Blumstein, a professor of operations research at the Heinz School at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
"What are seeing in these cases is that what used to be a passive, complacent citizenry is now inadvertently or aggressively resisting police," Blumstein said. "There is a growing willingness on the part of the public to aggressively respond to police, which is a relatively new phenomenon."
Blumstein believes, however, that the clustering of the five recent deaths is a coincidence.
"Five in the course of a month to two in one region certainly sounds like a lot," Blumstein said. "But actually, there were four separate incidents with each one really having nothing to do with the other. I would not necessarily conclude that there is something going to hell in a handbasket in southern New Jersey."
But Blumstein said Americans increasingly are showing a "lack of respect in society from the President on down to the police."
"There is a decay in the socialization process in this country based on the decay of the nuclear family," he said. "We are seeing that the basics of respect that are best carried out and taught in such a family are not happening."
Sawyer, of COPS, agreed.
"Never before have we lived in an age where anyone would even think to ask the President of the United States what kind of underwear he wears," she said. "It's not surprising that people are taking shots at the White House. The gradual decline in our social structure, I believe, is coming to a head in things like rashes of police killings. People have no respect for authority any longer."
It's a belief shared by Chief David Marantz, state president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, based in Berlin.
"If people don't have respect for police, if they would think nothing of shooting or beating on a cop, then what kind of respect are they going to have for you?" Marantz asked. "The answer is none."
That thought has weighed heavily on the minds of police officers during recent weeks.
"You can't help but think about it a lot more than ever before," said Capt. John Maher of the Lower Township Police Department, who was a friend of Miglio's. "When you become a police officer, you know that there is a possibility that you can die in the line of duty. When so many deaths occur in such a short amount of time all around you, it brings that reality home and puts it right in your face."