Phoenix police Sgt. Mercedes Fortune talks about an officer and a suspect shot on Aug. 16, 2018.
Dani Coble, Arizona Republic/azcentral
A Phoenix police officer was shot and critically wounded Thursday night during a traffic stop-turned-shootout in north Phoenix.
Police Chief Jeri Williams told The Arizona Republic on Friday morning that she spoke with the officer after the shooting, and he was expected to survive.
“We’re all breathing a sigh of relief that our officer is going to be OK,” Williams said. “But at the same time, we understand risks associated with this job.”
This is what we know and don’t about the shooting, what it means and what will happen next in the investigation into the latest episode of violence in a year marred by police shootings and assaults on law enforcement in the Valley.
At about 8 p.m., an officer in a marked patrol vehicle tried to pull over a vehicle that was “driving erratically” on East Cactus Road near North 25th Street. The vehicle failed to stop and continued traveling west, police said.
The vehicle entered a left-turn lane at the intersection of Cave Creek and Cactus roads and stopped at a traffic light. The officer got out of his car, approached the vehicle, tried to get the driver’s attention and demanded to see his hands.
The suspect shot and wounded the officer, who returned fire.
“The suspect exited his car, walked toward the officer, and continued to shoot,” police said.
The officer returned fire, hitting the man. Both were critically wounded.
Investigators remained in the area overnight, collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses. Other officers, as well as Williams, gathered outside HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center, 250 E. Dunlap Ave.
“In my opinion, I believe he was ambushed,” Williams said.
She added that representatives of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association were waiting with family members for updates on the officer’s condition.
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams talks about the recent shooting of a Phoenix police officer, as well as the rise in police-involved shootings.
Tom Tingle, azcentral.com
Who is the officer?
Police had not publicly identified the officer as of Friday afternoon, but did say he is 27 years old and had two years of service with the department.
Who is the suspect?
Police said the suspect was a 41-year-old man, but have not yet identified him.
He was also critically wounded in the shootout, but is expected to survive.
Is what’s happening this year unusual?
Yes, officials say and data show.
Thursday’s shooting was the 34th of the year involving the Phoenix Police Department, continuing to surge past the agency’s previous high for a calendar year of 31, set in 2013. For perspective, there were 21 Phoenix Police Department shootings in 2017, 25 in 2016 and 17 in 2015, department data show.
Fourteen of this year’s shootings were fatal and 32 involved armed suspects — 25 with handguns, two with replica guns, one with an officer’s firearm and four with a knife or sword.
The latest incident came just three weeks after Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper Tyler Edenhofer was shot and killed during a scuffle along Interstate 10 in the West Valley.
In Phoenix, police say there was a 45 percent increase in the number of assaults on officers in the first five months of this year, compared with the same period in 2017, data the department provided to The Republic show.
Of the 419 documented assault cases, suspects punched, charged, shot at or spat on officers. There were 288 assaults on police January through May last year, data show.
Assault incidents are increasingly involving armed suspects, police said.
One out of every 24 assaults on Phoenix police in the first five months of 2017 involved a suspect armed with a gun. That proportion surged to one in 10 during the same period in 2018.
What’s being done?
Although union leaders say a $149,000 taxpayer-funded study second-guesses police use of force, top brass on Friday again said it’s the only way they can begin to figure out what exactly is happening and more importantly, why.
“This is happening all over the city,” Williams said Friday. “This is happening with different ethnicities and genders. This is happening with different types of weapons and firearms and you name it. So there’s not one thing. It’s an alarming trend.”
Investigators from the National Police Foundation are scheduled to meet with police officials and community members next week, Williams said.
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