Two Connecticut cops targeted by gunfire reacted like pros, law enforcement leaders say, as assaults on officers increase nationwide

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Law enforcement leaders praised Hartford and Norwich police officers for their vigilance and professionalism after the two cops escaped targeted gunfire and helped arrest suspects in separate incidents Monday and Tuesday.

“What shouldn’t be lost here,” Brian Foley, an aide to public safety Commissioner James Rovella, said Wednesday, “is that both armed, violent suspects were taken into custody safely by police. This speaks volumes of the professionalism of police officers in Connecticut and the heroism of these officers who were trying to help.”

“The vigilance that’s required by police officers always is in play, and is a large part of why these officers were able to survive,” East Hartford police spokesman Lt. Josh Litwin said. “It’s a reminder to everyone of the dangers of this job.”

Law enforcement across the nation has become more dangerous. This year through September, 59 officers have been killed in the line of duty, a 51% increase over the same period last year, according to the FBI. Last year, 60,105 law enforcement officers were assaulted on duty, 4,071 more than the previous year, the agency reported.

Manchester police Lt. John Rossetti, head of the local union, attributed the heightened danger to societal changes.

“It’s a sad state of affairs our society is in,” Rossetti said, “and I can’t help but think it’s the overall lawlessness and lack of respect for policing as a profession created by the false narratives that politicians continued to project in furtherance of their political agendas.

“Our communities are not safer,” Rossetti said, “and we can look to our local leaders as being responsible.”

The incident in Hartford began on Monday at 1:30 a.m. The officer was in her marked cruiser in a Main Street parking lot when a man approached. Believing he was intoxicated or in need of medical help, the officer requested an ambulance. The man, later identified as Jose Cajigas, 31, suddenly drew a pistol and fired through the driver’s side window of the cruiser — narrowly missing the officer but shattering glass into her face, police said.

The officer pulled the car forward while the man ran, but she kept eyes on him and directed other responding officers, who captured Cajigas nearby and recovered the firearm he used, police said.

In Norwich on Tuesday at about 10 p.m., an officer was responding to a report of shots fired when he spotted a man carrying a rifle. A suspect later identified as Andrew O’Lone, 28, fired at the officer, striking the cruiser with several rounds, police said. The officer returned fire, police said, but no one was shot.

The type of point-blank gun attack that police in Hartford and Norwich described is not as prevalent as other kinds of assaults, according to FBI figures.

In 2019, of the 56,034 officers assaulted on duty, 30.7% were injured. The largest percentage of officer-victims (30.4%) were assaulted while responding to disturbance calls. Assailants used hands and feet as weapons in 79.3% of the incidents, firearms in 3.8% of incidents and knives or other cutting instruments in 1.9% of the incidents, the agency reported.

Noting that police officers have been killed in ambush attacks throughout the nation, Glastonbury police spokesman Lt. Corey Davis said, “We train our officers always to be vigilant.”

The deadliest attack on law enforcement officers since Sept. 11, 2001 happened on July 7, 2016 in Dallas when a gunman opened fire on officers working at a protest focused on recent killings by police of Black men in Minnesota and Louisiana. The attacker killed five officers and wounded nine others and two civilians before police killed him with a robot-delivered bomb.

Police in Hartford and Norwich have not disclosed possible motives for the recent shootings. Such events, Foley noted, can be traumatic for affected officers.

“Both Hartford and Norwich have strong employee assistance programs for officer wellness,” he said. “I hope they both take advantage of them.”

Jesse Leavenworth can be reached at jleavenworth@courant.com

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