Editorial: Even ‘routine’ police work filled with risk, danger

A tragic week in Carroll County that could’ve been doubly so should serve as a vital reminder to all of us about the inherent dangers of law enforcement.

Let’s remember that the police officers who serve and protect us — the ones we might be tempted to curse when they’re pulling us over or criticize when they handle a situation in a manner with which we disagree — put their lives in jeopardy every single day, even in communities as statistically safe as the ones in Carroll.


On Monday, according to Maryland State Police, Trooper First Class Tyler Michael responded to a seemingly innocuous enough offense — multiple reports of destruction of private property, such as the slashing of tires, just outside of the city limits in Westminster.

After talking to some of the crime victims and in the course of following up leads he came across a man, the situation escalated and he was stabbed before shooting and killing 34-year-old Michael J. D’Angelo, of Westminster.

The case, the first officer-involved shooting death in Carroll since 2012, is being investigated. The trooper, who will be on administrative leave during the investigation as is standard policy in the aftermath of a shooting, is recovering from his injuries.

We are glad Trooper Michael is expected to make a full recovery. And our condolences go out to the family and friends of D’Angelo, who, according to Maryland Judiciary’s online case search, had no previous criminal record and who, according to a statement released by his family through MSP, had “a long history of suffering from mental illness.” (While this is serving as a reminder of the daily risks faced by the police, we implore everyone to also remember the daily struggles faced by the mentally ill.)

We are shocked and saddened that this occurred during what seemed to be a “routine” police investigation. Which is a good reminder that there is no such thing as “routine” when it comes to police work.

There’s no routine traffic stop. There’s no routine knock on a door. There’s no routine interview. Any encounter can turn deadly at any time. We have, of course, seen too many unacceptable cases nationally in which officers abuse their power and an innocent victim — often an African-American male — winds up dead. But far more often it’s the other way around.

The police officer pulling over a speeding driver or talking to a possible witness during the course of investigating a crime has no way of knowing what a person is thinking or has done or is about to do. The potential of mental illness or drug use only serves to complicate the equation.

The Officer Down Memorial Page lists some 900 officers killed in the line of duty over the past five years, at least 150 in each year from 2014 through 2018. A Baltimore Sun article from last year reported that nine law enforcement officers in Maryland were killed in the line of duty over that span. It takes a certain kind of person to go to work in the service of others, knowing those risks. The type of person who runs toward danger instead of away from it. And knows danger can be present even during the seemingly routine.

We’re reminded of a quote attributed to George W. Bush, who was actually citing a police chaplain in 2003 when he said: “Heroes are not found on basketball courts or in rock bands; they're found on the backs of engines and the front seats of squad cars.”

That’s always worth remembering, but particularly during this tragic week.