Miami officer found dead in car

John Randall talks about his brother-in-law, Miami police Det. James Walker, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008 after he was found early Tuesday gunned down in North Miami Beach, Fla. while off duty. Walker is the fourth police officer killed in south Florida in recent months. Walker is standing outside the police crime scene.

Pat Carter/The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 7:11 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 7:11 a.m.

NORTH MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - A Miami police officer was found shot to death in an unmarked patrol car riddled with bullet holes early Tuesday, becoming South Florida's fourth law enforcement officer killed in recent months.

Detective James Walker, 30, was found in his car in an alley by North Miami Beach officers responding to reports of shots fired around 12:50 a.m., said Miami police spokesman Lt. Bill Schwartz. He had been shot multiple times, apparently with a high-powered weapon, and it wasn't known if he returned fire, Schwartz said.

"His car had been filled with holes," he said. "The car was made into Swiss cheese."

Police were now searching for at least one gunman and a white Ford Taurus with bullet holes. Schwartz said police had no suspects identified, but investigators were questioning drug dealers, gang members and others to see if they had information.

One man being questioned had been shot in the arm Tuesday morning, but police did not call him a suspect. "He might just be an innocent bystander," Schwartz said.

Blood trails led from Walker's car, and officers in flak jackets, helmets and rifles walked around the scene as investigators searched the area for clues. Schwartz said a high-powered weapon was found at the scene, but he did not disclose whether it was the one used to kill Walker.

Walker went off-duty around 11 p.m. Monday. It's not clear what he was doing in North Miami Beach, Schwartz said.

Walker's body was being removed from the car late Tuesday morning and would be taken to the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's office for an autopsy. The car was to be removed from the scene and examined for evidence separately, officials said.

Walker had been a member of the Miami police since 2000, and had been working with the department's domestic violence unit.

Walker's ex-wife lived in the area where he was found, said John Randle, the detective's brother-in-law.

"I don't know what he was doing in this alley," Randle told The Associated Press. "He was a good, humble guy. He was no trouble. I can't tell you no flaws."

A North Miami Beach police spokesman said the area is not considered a hot spot for drugs or gangs, but referred all calls for specifics to the Miami police department.

A chaplain was dispatched to the scene Tuesday, and grief counselors were made available, Miami Deputy Police Chief Frank D. Fernandez said.

Walker's death is the fourth fatal shooting of a South Florida law enforcement officer in the past six months. A Miami-Dade police officer was fatally shot in shootout with a suspect in September. One Broward sheriff's deputy was fatally shot in August while looking for stolen vehicles behind a drug store, and another was shot with his own weapon while transporting an inmate to court in November.

The number of officer deaths nationwide spiked to 191 in 2007 the highest since 1989, not including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Fund spokesman Kevin Morison attributed the increase to a greater number of officers on patrol, a recent uptick in violent crimes and more rapid and aggressive responses by officers.

"Departments need to look a little deeper to see whether they're giving all the training and tools they need," Morison said.

Shootings of law enforcement officers terrify other officers' families and cause problems within agencies, said Suzie Sawyer, executive director of Concerns of Police Survivors Inc., a Camdenton, Mo.-based organization that helps the families of fallen officers.

"Those officers have to go out there the next day and put the badge on their chest and the gun on their hip and their families are terrified for them," she said.

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