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Tension rises after killings of law enforcement officials

Law enforcement officials already on edge after the killings of two Texas prosecutors and a Colorado prison director got more reasons to worry yesterday, as a West Virginia sheriff was fatally shot and in a northeastern Texas community, authorities said they arrested a local man for threatening another county official.

It is uncertain whether the killings are connected or merely coincidental events in dangerous professions. Authorities said the arrest in Kaufman, Texas, of Nick Morale, 56, who phoned in a threat to a police tip line, was not related to the killings of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, last weekend, or that of Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse on Jan. 31.

Still, the news has heightened alarm among law enforcement officials, especially in Kaufman County, where judges are being escorted by armed guards to and from work, sheriff’s cars are parked outside the new district attorney’s house, and secretaries in the county courthouse have been given bulletproof vests.

“I’m not going to live in fear,” Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood said Tuesday. “But I’m not stupid either. We’re being very careful about security for all officials, not just judges.”

The killings of McLelland and Hasse have drawn at least several dozen FBI agents, as well as U.S. Marshals and Texas Rangers, to the area to assist the local sheriff’s office.

In West Virginia, Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum, known for his tough stand against the drug trade, was fatally shot yesterday in the place where he usually parks his car for lunch, about a block from the county courthouse, according to the Associated Press.

The death rates for law enforcement officers nationally have fluctuated over time, with the most dangerous period coming in the 1970s. Overall, deaths of officers in the line of duty spiked from 122 in 2009 to 165 in 2011, and dropped to 129 last year, according to the D.C.-based National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Over the past three years, however, targeted attacks on law enforcement officials have spiked, according to research conducted by Glenn McGovern, a senior investigator for the district attorney’s office in Santa Clara County, Calif.

Fifteen targeted attacks occurred in that time frame, six in which one or more people were killed, said McGovern, who equated the recent level of violence with 1980s Mafia killings in Sicily and recent drug-related homicides in Mexico. During a comparable period from 2000 to 2003, McGovern said, there were six such attacks. He could not explain the increase.

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