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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.

Tags: Duty Deaths, Assaults on Officers, Cop Killers, LEOKA


Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

Evan @ 8/10/2011 3:31 PM

Interesting--though I'm not sure how much you can read into officers being killed in the company of partners since the types of incidents specified as those most often ending in an officer's death are also the ones where multiple units are more likely to be dispatched--that is, domestics, weapons calls, fights, etc. I think a more interesting, apples-to-apples comparison would be how often the deaths of officers solo/with partners occurred after largely self-initiated patrol activity--that is, traffic stops, pedestrian stops, foot pursuits, etc. I think it would be shocking to find out that, statistically, two-officer traffic stops are less safe than one officer stops. And if that were true, it would be worth of additional reporting by the magazine.

Tom @ 8/11/2011 9:23 PM

Especially today, the law enforcement officer needs a warrior mind set to survive. It is apparent that the criminals are less afraid of repercussions for taking on a cop. Experience teaches that a call only becomes routine when it is over with. Having a partner doesn't mean you are immune from assault especially if by having that partner you have become lax.

Mike @ 8/12/2011 7:47 AM

Training ,training and more training. Officers do not get enough training before being put out in the field. I would like to see a parallel study focusing on years on the job deaths. I would imagine that the number of officers with less then 5 years experience is a major factor.

Rick @ 8/12/2011 8:50 AM

With the attacks on officers growing and the threats of riots looming due to the economy, officers need to think more tactically. Calibre Press Street Survival Seminars are a great tool as are any number of tactical shooting schools by MagPul, Smith & Wesson, Front Site, etc. If departments don't send their officers, the officers should pay for it themselves.

Bill @ 8/12/2011 9:35 AM

Mr. Griffith

This article radically skews the FBI data to show that working alone is safer and it is not. The categories for assignment in the LEOKA are: 2-Officer Vehicle and 1-Officer Vehicle Alone & Assisted.

1990-2009
2-Officer Vehicle = 141
1-Officer Vehicle Alone + Assisted = 628

In this article, 1-Officer Assisted has been incorrectly lumped in with 2-Officer Vehicle. IT IS NOT THE SAME! In most serious incidents assisting officers are dispatched and arrive at some point, but we all know that responding officers rarely arrive at the same time.

Misrepresenting data this way encourages administrations to continue the unsafe policy of single-officer units. THE ONLY REASON FOR SINGLE OFFICER UNITS IS TO SAVE MONEY! It is not safer or more effective.

All things being equal, a team is more effective than the sum of its parts. Military history (we are talking about combat) bears this out time and time again. Two brains, two pairs of eyes and ears, and two guns working as a team are ALWAYS better than one.

Mr. Griffith, please feel free to email me if you wish to discuss my response.

ron @ 8/12/2011 12:25 PM

Excellent article! We have a crisis in our society when you kill the one who protects you from being killed. My prayers are with the families of all of our fallen officers.

Jerry @ 8/15/2011 6:12 AM

The best thing about this article is the fact that it makes you think about tactics and safety. I believe that if you just skim the surface, you will get the wrong impression. I feel that a large percentage of officer deaths when there is more than one officer on scene, is because many of the most dangerous calls are obviously dispatched to multiple units. A critical fact would then be, was the officer murdered prior to back-up arriving? Do officers drop their guard because they feel safe in numbers?I would also like to see the FBI complete the report with additional factors about officers who survived deadly encounters. Perhaps we should focus on what tactics lead to surviving, and concentrate our efforts and tactics on what we learn from a larger picture.

2011 seems to be shaping up as a very bad year in numbers of attacks on officers, and it's high time politicians get behing law enforcement officers and quit pandering to the criminal element in our society.

God bless, and stay safe-always think tactics.

Bart @ 10/25/2011 7:24 PM

Here is my problem. I dont want to see the "cops die when blank", I want you to show me when we win the gunfights. What tactics are they using (distance, cover, etc) to allow them to win. Humans learn best by modeling behavior, what behaviors do we have proof allow us to win. Those are the things that the LEOKA stuff misses.

Martin Ullstrup @ 11/19/2012 7:10 PM

My opinion as to why so many were killed is poor or insufficient training. My stepson is a police officer and I was allowed to shoot in the qualification exersersize at two different times. I had the high scores of the day, mostly because I have have been shooting handguns for many years an have had 64 hours of training at Thunder Ranch. But I should not have done that well. The problem was the lack of skill of the officers I competed with. Some were, to be honest unqualified to be put into any position where they had to defend themselves with a handgun. This is not fair to the officer or the citizens they that might be forced to protect. Spend some money on training of these officers for their good as well as the public. If is only fair.

Sal @ 11/21/2012 5:42 AM

Can we please see the data on when patrol teams (two man unit) has come out on top, and what are the reasons they fail? Fire Fighters, military and other tactical organizations train with partners, so why would a partnership in police patrol fail. I found the article vague.

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