The shooting death last week of Rainer Police Chief Ralph Painter is the latest shocking indication that today’s Pacific Northwest is a dangerous place for law officers. Coupled with the massacre down in Arizona, it’s enough to make normal people wonder what the heck is going on here in the USA.

Each violent incident is an individual tragedy for victims, their families and communities. Each demands specific attention. These are individual men and women who are being shot and too often killed. Whether members of Congress or police, they are not faceless symbols of authority. This is true whether the crimes against them occur in small towns like Rainier, cities like Tucson or bustling suburbs like Lakewood, where four police were gunned down last year.

All these crimes shake our basic assumptions about the safety and solidity of American society. If a hometown police chief in Rainier or a congresswoman in Arizona aren’t safe from being murdered in carrying out routine duties, it’s hard for any public figure anywhere to feel safe.

Like the attempted murder of Washington State Trooper Scott Johnson last February in Long Beach, Painter’s death takes all our assumptions about community security and shakes them by the throat. We all like to imagine we have discovered a small slice of paradise in the Pacific Northwest’s usually low-key and picturesque rural areas. But we’re not immune.

Are there any obvious common threads in these crimes or straightforward answers? Smart people are looking for answers. But we know some things already.

Some things put all of us, and especially public servants, at risk: Cutting back on the number of law enforcement personnel. Saving money by cutting prison terms of violent offenders and putting more felons on the streets before they have paid their debts to society. Gutting mental-health services and law enforcement training. Continuing to give people with known violent tendencies easy access to firearms. Slipshod plea-bargaining.

Many of these factors are related to the sluggish economy. The economy also is placing risky individuals under greater stress. Too many people are running around with hair-trigger tempers and the ability to take their animosities out on cops and others. As a society, we must do all we can to take extra steps to ensure public safety and dial-down the anger in these deadly times.

All of us on the coast offer our deepest condolences to Chief Painter’s family and to the community of Rainier, and to all those who were targeted in Arizona.

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