Deaths in the Line of Duty: What the Data Show

In partnership with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) has released “Making It Safer: A Study of Law Enforcement Fatalities Between 2010-2016“. The report represents the culmination of analysis across 1,016 law enforcement officer deaths in the line of duty. According to the report, “In 2016, the number of officers shot and killed increased by 53 percent over the previous year and by 94 percent from the total in 2013.”

A breakdown of the cases, and some of the key findings include information from the following categories:

-Traffic Related: The death of an officer as a result of a crash while operating a motor vehicle was responsible for 360 fatalities. During the last five years, 71 officers that died were not wearing seatbelts.

-Calls for Service: The death of an officer while responding to a call for service was responsible for 133 fatalities. Domestic dispute and domestic-related calls for service were responsible for 29% of officer deaths. The report also notes that domestic-related incidents were also the underlying cause of fatalities in other calls for service.

-Self-initiated activity: The death of an officer while independently addressing traffic violations and observing suspicious activity was responsible for 127 fatalities. During 2010-2016, when an officer was shot during a traffic stop, 49% of officers were shot while making contact with the driver of a stopped vehicle.

-Ambushes: The death of an officer as the result of an ambush was responsible for 81 fatalities. The most fatal incident occurred in Dallas, Texas, when five officers were killed by a gunman who possessed the intent to specifically kill police officers.

The authors note that, “Readers should be stunned by the number of cases and by the specifics brought to light that are still occurring despite much-improved training policies and safety measures. The continuing problem of ‘Police-on-Police’ shootings in the field and on the range must be addressed by practitioners.” The report not only delivers pertinent data, but also provides “Make It Safer” recommendations at the end of each section. There are simple steps that can be taken: from wearing seat belts, preventing weapon mishandling, wearing well-fitted body armor, requesting back up before making contact with suspects, and training and preparing to recognize precursors to violent behavior in suspects. These can all decrease the chance of an officer fatality while in the line of duty.