by Jose Torres
The number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty for 2017 is the second-lowest total in more than 50 years.
As of Dec. 28th, 128 officers died in the line of duty in 2017. Of the 128 killed, 44 died after being shot.
The 2017 numbers represent a 10 percent reduction in law enforcement deaths in the line of duty (LODs) from the previous year. In 2016, 143 officers died, with 66 killed by gunfire.
For most of us, even one cop dying is one too many.
“This is one of those good-news, bad-news situations,” said Craig Floyd, president and chief executive of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. “On one hand, you had 128 officers who made the ultimate sacrifice, showing the cost of public safety. But for the first time since 2013, the number of deaths has actually declined.”
Experts chalk up the reduction in deaths to more awareness about single-vehicle accidents (the leading cause of death in the line of duty) and other factors.
“It’s definitely a good sign but if it’s a trend, we’ll have to see,” Geoffrey P. Alpert, a professor at the University of South Carolina and a researcher on high-risk police activities told USA Today.
Craig Floyd said he was hopeful that this is a sign that officers have restored some trust, especially in communities where relationships have been torn.
“Body-worn cameras have helped departments become more transparent and have enabled them to stop violence before it begins after controversial incidents,” he said. “I think we are starting to see the impact of all this new training and equipment, and a shift because of the overall concern for officer safety.”
Some suggest that new policies limiting the circumstances where officers can engage in vehicle pursuits and “move over” laws** might be two factors driving the numbers in the right direction.
Texas saw the highest number of law enforcement officers killed on the job with 14 deaths.
Tied for second were Florida and New York, both with nine killed in the line of duty.
Randy Sutton, a former police lieutenant and now a pro-police activist said the reduction in numbers of officers shot and killed on the job is likely due to police officers being more fearful and less aggressive.
“There’s a saying in law enforcement: ‘You can’t get in trouble for the car stop you don’t make’,” he said. “They don’t want to be the next Ferguson, the next officer burned on the stake.”
Sutton’s theory, that the so-called Ferguson effect is keeping cops inactive because they’re afraid for their lives and reputations, is widely accepted in police circles.
In a related story, the number of people killed by officers in the United States increased from 2016 totals.
As of December 28, 2017, some 971 people had been shot and killed by police.
Justin Nix, a criminal justice professor at the University of South Carolina says the number of on the job deaths in a given year is usually pretty predictable.
“Every year, 100 to 150 officers die in the line of duty. It’s a relatively small number when you consider the half a million officers nationwide, so it’s going to bounce around,” Nix said. “This decrease is definitely a good thing, but there’s no way of knowing whether it might go up again next year.”
Floyd says that the awareness of officer safety and wellness could be a major factor.
“In my 33 years doing this, I’ve never seen the amount of awareness given to officer safety and wellness,” he said. “That’s definitely been paying off and will continue to help make law enforcement a significantly safer profession.”
According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit aimed at honoring officers and improving safety, which compiled this data, the leading circumstances of firearms-related fatalities were officers responding to domestic disturbances and conducting traffic stops. One-hundred and nineteen fallen officers were male and nine were female. Their average age was 42 years, with 13 years of service. On average, each officer left behind two children.
**A move over law is a statute that requires motorists to move over and change lanes to give safe clearance to law enforcement officers, firefighters, ambulances, utility workers, and in some cases, tow-truck drivers.
This story first appeared in American Police Beat Magazine and was reprinted with their kind permission.
Photo of Los Angeles Police Department memorial for fallen officers by By Texjer, Wikimedia Commons