Editorial: Our debt to Officer Tarentino

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About 12:30 a.m. Sunday on Rochdale Street in Auburn, police officer Ronald Tarentino Jr. pulled over a white Infiniti SUV.

It was a fateful and fatal encounter.

Jorge A. Zambrano, a 35-year-old with a lengthy criminal history, is alleged to have shot Officer Tarentino and fled. The 42-year-old husband and father of three died at UMass-Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

Eighteen hours later, after a standoff at 31-33 Watch St., Oxford, Zambrano was killed by police after an exchange of gunfire left a state trooper injured.

In the brief time since the tragic events of early Sunday morning, troubling details of Zambrano’s criminal past have emerged.

According to a report in the Telegram & Gazette, “Records in Central District Court in Worcester and the Clinton court show Mr. Zambrano had a lengthy criminal history, with at least 84 cases in the court system. In three of those cases, he fought with police.”

Included in Zambrano’s past was a seven-year sentence in state prison, a probation violation in April, and a May 16 arrest. He was due back in court next month.

Deaths in the line of duty are far too commonplace in today’s world. The Officer Down Memorial Page reports 38 police officers have lost their lives so far this year [Editor’s note: Half by gunfire, but many of the rest were accidents.] and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported that 123 had fallen in 2015, one more than the year prior.

[Editor’s note: Consider, FBI data deemed 51 of 122 officer deaths in 2014 “felonious deaths.” And this year is trending toward about 46. According to FBI data reported by NPR last year, the 10-year annual average for such line-of-duty deaths starting in 1970 was more than 70 until the late ‘90s.]

Left with little recourse after such a tragedy when the scourge appears, communities engage in a shared sense of sorrow and mourning for those who have been lost.

But we can and should do more.

Each loss of life should be a reminder of the dangers faced by those who protect us. It should also be a reminder that officers are just the first line of defense in a criminal justice system with many layers — prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, jail and prison officials, human services agencies and parole and probation officers.

We do not wish to rush to judgement but the reports of Zambrano’s past raise questions about the effectiveness of the system as a whole and its individual parts. These questions need to be answered.

In that vein, we support Gov. Charlie Baker and others who have called for investigations surrounding the circumstances of Officer Tarentino’s death.

We mourn the fact that what is done cannot be undone. However, it makes our task now imperative. We owe it to the memory of Officer Tarentino and all other law enforcement personnel who risk their lives every day to understand how a routine traffic stop on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning ended in the death of an Auburn Police officer.

Only then can we take steps to ensure a tragedy such as this is less likely to occur in the future.

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