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Police Fatalities Have Dropped Sharply Since The 1970s

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

A new report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) found that the number of firearm-related police officer deaths in 2014 is below the decade average — and that the rate of these deaths has been trending downward since the 1970s. Nevertheless, several advocates and news outlets seized upon a one-year rise in the number of police shootings as evidence of a broader trend.

CREDIT: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund
CREDIT: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund

Of the 126 cops who died in the line of duty in 2014, the leading cause of those deaths were firearms, which killed 50 officers. Every one of these deaths is a tragedy, but the good news is that this figure is below the decade average: 53. Between 2000 and 2009, the average was 57. Indeed, that average has been in decline since 1973, when 156 cops were killed by guns.

2014, however, does follow a year that saw fewer officers killed in the line of duty by guns than any other year on record. Last year, 31 officers were shot and killed — a 38 percent decrease from 2012. The number of gun-related fatalities actually dropped to a 126-year low. Nevertheless, as the NLEOMF data indicates, the overall number of deaths in 2014 is consistent with a general downward trend (the spike in deaths in 2001 results in part from the attacks on September 11. Seventy-two officers were killed that day.)

CREDIT: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund
CREDIT: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund

Yet, despite the overall downward trend, Memorial Fund chair and CEO Craig Floyd suggested that the one-year increase in fatal police shootings is part of a general trend of distrust towards police officers. “With the increasing number of ambush-style attacks against our officers, I am deeply concerned that a growing anti-government sentiment in America is influencing weak-minded individuals to launch violent assaults against the men and women working to enforce our laws.”

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Police deaths gained national attention when two NYPD officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, were shot execution style in their patrol car on December 20. Their deaths, which followed weeks of national protests for police reform, raised tension between Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD officers. That tension was put front and center when hundreds of uniformed officers turned their backs to de Blasio when he spoke at Officer Ramos’ funeral.