The Columbus Dispatch Editorial Board
Few people have jobs that expose them to the risk of violent death every time they report to work. But Columbus Police Officer Steven M. Smith was one of them. He accepted that risk for 27 years.
On Tuesday, the 54-year-old officer died of a gunshot wound sustained on Sunday as he and other Columbus officers attempted to serve an arrest warrant on a man sought on an arson charge. The man accused of shooting him is in custody and will be charged in Smith’s slaying.
Justice will be done, but nothing can replace the loss to the Columbus Police Division, the Columbus community and Smith’s family: wife Lisa Smith, to whom he was married for 32 years, and his adult son and daughter. The city joins in their grief.
Over his decades in law enforcement, Smith served in a variety of roles, as part of the Columbus Police Division’s helicopter unit, narcotics bureau, dive team, and finally, as a member of the SWAT team that was serving the arrest warrant on Sunday.
But even in death, Smith continued to serve, with organs donated to benefit eight other people.
Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs said Smith “lived life 100 percent and 100 miles per hour,” adding that “He got more out of it than most people ever will.”
According to Officer Down Memorial Page (http://bit.ly/1oXExbd), Smith was the 56th Columbus officer to die in the line of duty, a list that begins with Officer Cyrus Beebe, who was killed by gunfire in 1854.
Over the years, according to the Memorial Page, 824 Ohio officers have lost their lives as a result of their service and a list of these losses by police agency shows that scores of Ohio municipalities have seen such sacrifices (https://www.odmp.org/search/browse/ohio). The website also notes that, "Since 1791, there have been 22,479 known line-of-duty deaths in America.”
The man accused of shooting Smith, Lincoln Rutledge, is being held without bail. Police say that Rutledge had been acting erratically since February, and that his employer, Ohio State University had barred him from university buildings and its computer system shortly after. Rutledge resigned his OSU job on April 3, and then on Saturday, began the series of events that would culminate in tragedy, police said, by setting fire to his ex-wife’s home. Police were seeking to arrest him in Clintonville on an arson charge early Sunday when he fired the shot that claimed Smith’s life.
It is remarkable that in spite of the risks, so many men and women take up this job and perform it so courageously and honorably. They face not only the threat of violence, but the second-guessing of their decisions, especially when they resort to the use of force. This has been particularly true in recent years when the actions of a few officers have cast a pall over the many thousands who do their jobs day in and day out with decency and restraint.
Yes, police are human and, like all humans, they sometimes make mistakes. But mostly, they don’t , and because they do their jobs so well, everyone else can sleep easier.
Officer Steven M. Smith protected this community for nearly three decades. For that, he deserves all the honor and thanks that can be bestowed on him, and his family deserves the community’s sympathy and support.