Cop Deaths Fall, Shootings Climb
Five ambush-style incidents that ended in the shooting deaths of 15 police officers are putting a damper on a positive trend this year: The number of officers who died in the line of duty was the lowest in 50 years.
"It really is a classic good news-bad news story," says Craig Floyd, chairman and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which releases its preliminary 2009 statistics today.
The non-profit group reports that 124 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty this year, down 7(PERCENT) from last year and the lowest number since 1959.
"When you consider there are three times the number of officers serving today that makes the numbers even more favorable," Floyd says.
The decrease is overshadowed by the spike in the number of officers killed by gunfire - 15 in multiple shootings, the most of any year since 1981.
The total number of officers shot and killed surged 23(PERCENT) since last year to 48. More than 30(PERCENT) of the deaths happened in five incidents where one shooter killed several officers.
"It tells us we have an increasing number of coldblooded criminals on the streets of America," Floyd says.
The latest incident was in November in Lakewood, Wash., where four officers were shot and killed in a coffee shop. In April, three Pittsburgh police officers were ambushed by a gunman as they responded to a domestic disturbance call.
"The officers did nothing wrong," says Bill Bochter, assistant chief with the Pittsburgh police. "We've got good soft body armor, excellent tactics and incredibly well-trained trauma units. All of that helps but, unfortunately, I don't know if there's a way to prevent it when someone is intent on taking officers' lives in an ambush."
The overall drop in police fatalities was driven largely by a big dip in traffic-related deaths. Traffic incidents remain the leading cause of officer deaths for 12 years in a row, but the number dropped 21(PERCENT) to 56 this year.
Officers are getting better training in high-speed driving, Floyd says. Other findings:
- The deadliest single day in recent law enforcement history was Sept. 11, 2001, when 72 officers were killed in the terrorist attacks. Despite that, the decade may end up being one of the safest.
- Domestic disturbance calls are the most dangerous for police. Eleven officers died answering such calls - almost 23(PERCENT) of all shooting deaths.
- For the third consecutive year, Texas, Florida and California had the most police fatalities.