Too often, we take for granted the people we hire to guard our communities and apprehend those accused of wrongdoing. Baltimore County Police Officer Jason Schneider, a 13-year veteran of the force whose unit carried out some of the department's most difficult and dangerous missions to capture armed fugitives, was one such unsung hero. His death Wednesday in a hail of gunfire inside a Catonsville house was a tragic reminder of the risks he and others like him face on a daily basis in order to ensure the safety of those they are sworn to protect — that is, all of us.
Officer Schneider, a 36-year-old father of two, was by all accounts an exemplary public servant and a leader among his colleagues on the county SWAT team, where he had been involved in the planning and execution of virtually every tactical operation carried out by his unit over the last decade. His boss, Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson, said those missions included hundreds of attempts to apprehend known violent-crime and gun offenders, numerous hostage barricade situations and thousands of high-risk drug warrant operations. There were few more dedicated or competent officers under his command than Mr. Schneider, the chief said. His loss has devastated his family, friends and everyone who worked with him at the department.
Mr. Schneider had served in the U.S. Marines before joining the county police in June 2000 — coincidentally, the last year in which a county officer was killed by gunfire. Chief Johnson described him as a model recruit during his police academy training who stood head and shoulders above many of his classmates. On graduating from the academy, Mr. Schneider was assigned to a patrol unit in the Garrison precinct in the Randallstown area, where he served for four years before joining the county SWAT team in 2004. By then, it was evident that he had found his calling in public safety, and he quickly established himself as a leader of his unit by taking on the role of being "the first man through the door" in crisis situations.
Mr. Schneider remained a leader to the end. As a senior member of the SWAT unit and former Marine, he took pride in keeping physically fit, and he often participated in friendly contests with his colleagues in the weight room where the unit worked out. He was an instructor at the department's counter-sniper school and served as a mentor for younger officers who benefited from his highly developed police skills and "extraordinary judgment" on dangerous missions.
Police officers are acutely aware of the risks they face on the job, be it in the course of a routine traffic stop, responding to a report of a burglary or, as in Mr. Schneider's case, the always-present perils of trying to apprehend a fugitive known to be armed and dangerous. They are constantly preparing themselves, both physically and mentally, for the day when they may find themselves in a situation where their training and decision-making ability could mean the difference between life and death. Yet, it is still always shocking news when an officer of the law is gunned down in the line of duty. As it turned out, the man alleged to have killed Mr. Schneider was not even the person his team had set out to apprehend that morning; police are still investigating what, if any, connection he may have had to the 16-year-old suspect in a prior shooting they had been seeking.
After a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans have learned to honor the nation's military veterans who have sacrificed and died far from home to protect our freedoms. But we also need to recognize the bravery of those closer at hand who every day risk their lives serving the public. There is no better example of such selfless dedication than the career, tragically cut short, of Officer Jason Schneider. "This is a terrible loss for his family, and a significant loss for the department," Chief Johnson said. "But it is also a loss of the greater Baltimore County community, whose citizens are extraordinarily supportive of their police, and our whole community is grieving over this loss today."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun