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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

Rifles were also particularly devastating weapons in the hands of cop killers. Rifles can easily defeat most law enforcement body armor, so a rise in rifle attacks would be particularly alarming. Rifle murders of officers had been trending down since 2004 when 13 officers were killed with rifles. But they spiked in 2009, claiming 15 officers' lives. In total, 94 officers were shot and killed with rifles in the last decade, accounting for 19 percent of all firearm murders of officers and 17 percent of all felonious cop killings.

Edged weapons are very unlikely to be used in a cop killing in the U.S. This does not mean that cops aren't attacked with knives; they certainly are. But it does mean that these weapons are not as lethal or as commonly used in attacks on officers as guns. In the last decade, three officers were killed with blades.

A much more likely non-firearm weapon for a cop killing than a knife is a car or truck. From 2000 to 2009, 38 officers were intentionally killed by people who targeted them with motor vehicles. That's just seven percent of all cop killings during the last decade, but it's 83 percent of all non-firearm murders of officers.

Note: The FBI statistics for officers killed from 2000 to 2009 do not include the 72 officers killed in the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001.

Mortal Wounds

The FBI statistics for the last decade do not reveal any clear trends on shot placement by cop killers.

However, the vast majority of fatal wounds inflicted on officers appear to be head shots, 243 out of 490, nearly 50 percent. The reason that this is so is not readily clear. Head shots are generally more lethal than body shots, so it stands to reason that a large number of officers killed by firearms would be hit in the head.

Fortunately, there does not appear to be a growing trend among cop killers to aim for the head. In 2001, 34 officers were killed by head shots. This number dropped to 29 the next year, 19 in 2003, and 18 in 2008. In 2009, the last year measured, 23 officers were killed by head shots.

The prevalence of head wounds in the FBI statistics is clear, but cops are also still falling from chest wounds. In the last decade, 135 officers were killed by bullets to the chest, accounting for 28 percent of all fatal firearms wounds among officers.

As with head wounds, there appears to be no trend in the prevalence of chest wounds in the killing of officers. In 2004, 19 officers were killed by gunshot wounds to the chest. This number dropped to 14 in 2005 and 11 in 2006. But it climbed back up to 19 in 2007 before dropping to seven in 2008 and leveling off at 11 in 2009.

Armor On or Off

The statistics on chest shots raise questions of body armor use by the fallen officers. But just because an officer was killed by a shot to the chest does not necessarily mean that he or she was working without a vest. Some officers are killed undercover, in plain clothes, and even off duty. Also, some officers wearing armor are killed by chest shots that overwhelm the armor such as rifle fire.

Unfortunately, the FBI stats do not drill down deep enough into this issue. They merely list whether officers were wearing armor at the time of their murders.

Out of 536 officers feloniously killed from 2000 to 2009, 341 were wearing armor. That's a solid 63 percent, and even 36 officers who were killed out of uniform were wearing armor.

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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.

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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