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What Gets You Killed

A decade of FBI statistics reveals the types of incidents, assignments, and circumstances most likely to result in the felonious killing of an officer.

August 09, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Each year the FBI compiles a special report on law enforcement officers killed and assaulted (LEOKA). Although it's a grim topic, much can be learned about the behavior of cop killers and the cops who are feloniously killed by analyzing the source data.

The following is a quick look at some of the issues raised by the last decade of LEOKA reports. But fundamentally, it's a picture of what gets cops killed.

In Groups and Alone

It goes against conventional wisdom, but from 2000 to 2009, nearly twice as many police officers were killed in the company of partners and with backup than were killed alone.

FBI stats for the last decade show that 180 officers were killed acting alone while 356 were killed working with other officers. Off-duty attacks claimed 50 of these officers.

One of three types of incidents is most likely to end with an officer down: disturbances, arrests, and traffic stops.

Disturbances, including such things as bar fights, reports of a person with a firearm, and domestics, resulted in 77 murdered officers from 2000 to 2009. Arrests, including attempted arrests and pursuits, resulted in 121 officers feloniously killed.

As most officers would expect, traffic stops are also extremely dangerous. A total of 101 officers were murdered during traffic stops from 2000 to 2009. Thirty-six of these officers were killed during felony traffic stops.

Alarmingly, ambushes were another major cause of death for officers during the decade in question. Premeditated entrapment attacks killed 42 officers, while sudden unprovoked assaults killed another 73.

Time of Day Matters

According to the FBI statistics, the safest time to be on patrol is from 6:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. From 2000 to 2009, just three percent of all officer murders occurred during this two-hour period. Felonious killings of officers are also less likely from 2:01 to 6 in the morning. About 11 percent of police murders occur during this four-hour period. With just 21 percent of officer murders occuring from 2:01 a.m. to 10 a.m., it appears that bad guys go to bed and stay in bed during that eight-hour cycle.

The deadliest time to be out on the job, according to the decade of FBI stats, is from 8:01 p.m. to 10 p.m. Some 14 percent of all police murders occur in this two-hour period.

And as most cops would probably predict, the hours of 8:01 p.m. to 2 a.m-when the bars are open and just after they close in most jurisdictions-are also particularly dangerous for law enforcement. In the last decade, 195 officers were killed during that six-hour span, some 36 percent of the total body count.

This does not mean that daylight hours are necessarily safe. In the last decade, 38 percent of all officers feloniously killed were attacked between the hours of 8:01 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Guns and Other Weapons

America is a gun culture. There are other places on this planet where police have to worry more about knives or clubs or bombs, but here in the United States the vast majority of law enforcement officers murdered fall prey to assailants armed with firearms.

In the last decade, 490 American officers were feloniously killed with guns. That's a whopping 91 percent of all officers murdered in the line of duty.

Handguns remain the tool of choice for cop killers. A total of 357 officers were killed with pistols during the last decade. That's 67 percent of the total number of officers killed and 73 percent of all gun murders of officers.


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