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Monday should have been an ordinary day for Trooper Daniel Harrell. He put on his uniform and badge, holstered his sidearm and went to work.
Harrell began his shift behind the wheel of his N.C. Highway Patrol-issue Dodge Charger. But instead of going home to a warm bed, he spent the night at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville.
Sheriff’s deputies say 36-year-old John David Jones shot Harrell during a traffic stop on Haynes Road east of Elm City. Harrell was in stable condition Tuesday and is expected to recover. But he nearly lost his life for no other reason than he did the job we asked of him. He answered the call to serve.
Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line each day. Pulling over a motorist is an ordinary duty, especially for state troopers tasked with keeping our roads and highways safe. Yet the traffic stop, common as it may be, is rife with danger.
Too many drivers stopped for traffic violations or criminal investigations lash out with lethal force. Three officers were killed during traffic stops in 2017, according to FBI statistics, and “72 officers were on assigned vehicle patrol when they were assaulted and injured with firearms, knives or other cutting instruments.”
The phrase “routine traffic stop” is a sad and counterintuitive cliché used most often to describe stops that are anything but routine — those that result death or serious injury.
“The list of names is too long,” wrote Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini. “Nothing about any of their deaths was ‘routine.’ The word only applies in the broader sense of what the men and women who serve in law enforcement do. They routinely put themselves in harm’s way for our benefit.”
Montini wrote those words in January 2010 after Lt. Eric Shuhandler of the Gilbert Police Department in Arizona was gunned down during a traffic stop.
Nine years later, the workaday duty remains as fraught with risk as it ever was.
Some well-meaning reformers say law enforcement agencies should relax their policies on traffic enforcement and stop motorists only as a last resort, reasoning that reducing the frequency of these tense roadside interactions would make everyone safer. Yet choosing not to confront drivers who are likely to be violent leaves these assailants-in-waiting free to unleash mayhem on others.
Someone who’d open fire on an officer is a ticking time bomb. Police, deputies and troopers defuse those bombs. Law enforcement is the “thin blue line” between order and chaos. The proud men and women sworn to serve and protect us don’t shirk from their duty, as dangerous as it may be.
Officers like Harrell — a third-generation trooper whose father and grandfather retired from the N.C. Highway Patrol — are willing to lay down their lives to protect us from the kind of predators who would rather take an innocent life than pay a traffic ticket or be brought to justice on an outstanding arrest warrant.
Harrell’s shooting follows the wounding of Raleigh police Officer Charles Ainsworth, who was shot multiple times after stopping a suspect in a Jan. 9 carjacking.
“The frequency at which law enforcement officers are being shot in our state is unconscionable,” Lt. Gov. Dan Forest wrote Monday night. “The evil people who commit these horrific crimes should be punished to the full extent of the law. Please keep State Trooper Daniel Harrell and continue to keep Raleigh Police Officer Ainsworth in your prayers. To all the dedicated men and women across North Carolina who protect our communities, thank you for your service and we will always support you.”
The man accused of shooting Harrell was captured around midnight following an hours-long manhunt. State troopers and Wilson County deputies on their agencies’ respective tactical teams found Jones hiding in the woods off Cattail Road southeast of Elm City.
Jones is now behind bars where he belongs. If he is guilty of this horrendous crime, he must face the maximum penalty.
We join the North Carolina Highway Patrol, the law enforcement community throughout the state and nation and our neighbors across Wilson County in lifting Trooper Harrell and his family in prayer.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Matthew 5:9 reads, “for they will be called children of God.”
Daniel Harrell is one such peacemaker, a peace officer who answered the call to serve his community. We pray for his full and speedy recovery.