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2 police officers ambushed and killed in Des Moines, Iowa: what we know

The suspect is Scott Michael Greene, a white man.

Two police officers are dead in the Des Moines, Iowa, area after what police are calling “ambush” attacks.

The shooting suspect is Scott Michael Greene, a white 46-year-old man. Police captured him later in the morning, several hours after the attacks.

According to the Des Moines Register, police first responded to reports of gunfire around 1 am local time on Tuesday. They found an Urbandale police officer, whose name still hasn’t been released, shot and killed. Another report then came in shortly before 1:30 am, where a Des Moines police officer was found shot and killed. Both cops were shot in their patrol cars.

Police have not released information about the shooter’s potential motives.

Greene had a bad run-in with police in April 2014, the Des Moines Register reported. Officers said he was “noncompliant, hostile, combative, and made furtive movements toward his pockets” when they tried to pat him down after noticing he had a pouch on his belt that looked like a holster. Greene was charged with and pleaded guilty to a simple misdemeanor count of interference with official acts.

Later that year, Greene was also accused of approaching a man, shining a flashlight in his eyes, calling him the n-word, and telling him, “I will kill you.” Greene pleaded guilty to a lesser harassment charge and was sentenced to one year of probation.

The shooting isn’t the first such ambush attack this year, with shooters killing police officers in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. These types of attacks remain fairly rare, although there has been a slight uptick in on-duty deaths so far in 2016.

So far, more police officers have died on-duty in 2016 than 2015

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, there have been 112 on-duty police officer deaths, an increase of 6 percent from the same time period in 2015. Forty-eight of those deaths were from gunfire, an increase of 55 percent from a similar time frame last year.

The percent increase in gunfire deaths is very high, but much of that is due to the fact that the number of baseline shootings is so small — which means just one horrific attack, like the one in Dallas, can cause an enormous percent increase if multiple police officers are killed.

Although the one-year increase is alarming, it also doesn’t appear to reflect a general trend. Over the past few decades, on-duty police officer deaths have plummeted — from 220-plus in the early 1970s to below 130 in the past few years.

Sometimes these attacks are politically motivated, driven by people who are upset with the government or police in some way. Other times they may just be seemingly random shootings, much like the mass killings that have drawn a lot of media attention over the past several years. And many times they happen in the course of an officer investigating another crime.

One cause for these shootings: easy access to guns. A previous study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, looked at federal data for firearm ownership and homicides of police officers across the US over 15 years. It found that states with more gun ownership had more cops killed in homicides: Every 10 percent increase in firearm ownership correlated with 10 additional officers killed in homicides over the 15-year study period.

This reflects a broader trend: Where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths. Researchers have found this is true not just with homicides, but also with suicides and domestic violence. Guns are of course not the only driver of crime — other factors can be socioeconomic conditions and alcohol consumption, for example — but they appear to be a major contributor.

Whatever the cause, killings of police officers thankfully remain rare, and have trended down for decades. That perhaps makes the Iowa shooting even more tragic — one would obviously like to see the trend keep going down, but a killing like this makes that a more difficult prospect.