Police officers across the U.S. are taking new precautions in response to a spike in what they call “ambush-style” attacks against them, reports The Trace. Cops are teaming up to respond to emergency calls, suiting up more often in ballistic vests and helmets, even taking greater care to monitor their surroundings while dining out, police officials say. This year, 20 law enforcement officers have died in planned assaults carried out by gunmen, say two groups that track officer deaths. That’s the highest number in at least a decade. It includes the dramatic slayings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, ten days apart this July.
“We’ve always known the job was dangerous, but this is different,” said Paul Kelly, who heads the police union in San Jose, Ca. Kelly said the city’s officers now have the option of patrolling with a partner, and may soon be required to also put on helmets any time a situation escalates to the point where they need to carry rifles. Last month, Kelly’s union released a television ad suggesting that the public’s concern for the lives of police officers is not so strong as its concern for the lives of suspects. Law enforcement experts don’t blame police for being on high alert, but they caution that heightened vigilance that distances officers from everyday citizens risks damaging relationships with the communities they serve. “If cops are being threatened, they’re not going to do their jobs as effectively,” said John DeCarlo, a former Connecticut police chief who now teaches police procedure at the University of New Haven. “There is a trauma that takes place that makes them less responsive to the community.”