2008 is ending as one of the safest years for U.S. law enforcement in decades. The number of officers killed in the line of duty fell sharply this year when compared with 2007, and officers killed by gunfire reached a 50-year low.
Based on analysis of preliminary data, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) and Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) found that 140 officers have died in the line of duty so far this year. That is 23 percent lower than the 2007 figure of 181, and represents one of the lowest years for officer fatalities since the mid-1960s.
This year's reduction includes a steep, 40 percent drop in the number of officers who were shot and killed, from 68 in 2007 to 41 in 2008. The last time firearms-related fatalities were this low was 1956, when there were 35 such deaths. The 2008 figure is 74 percent lower than the total for 1973, when a near-record high 156 law enforcement officers were shot and killed.
"2007 was a wake-up call for law enforcement in our country, and law enforcement executives, officers, associations and trainers clearly heeded the call, with a renewed emphasis on officer safety training, equipment and procedures," said NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig W. Floyd. "The reduction in firearms-related deaths is especially stunning, given the tremendous firepower possessed by so many criminals today. The fact that law enforcement has been able to drive down the crime rate, and do so with increased efficiency and safety, is a testament to the hard work and professionalism of our officers," Mr. Floyd added.
"Concerns of Police Survivors is pleased to see the reduction in officer deaths for 2008 and hope this is a trend we will see year after year. But we also know that for each of the surviving families and co-workers, their one officer is one too many," said C.O.P.S. National President Jennifer Thacker. "These families, co-workers and agencies are struggling to cope with life without their officer and will need support from C.O.P.S. before, during and long after National Police Week. C.O.P.S. will continue its efforts to provide life rebuilding support and resources for 2008 surviving families and affected co-workers, as well as past year survivors to help them rebuild their shattered lives. We will embrace these families and affected co-workers and assure them there is no fee to join C.O.P.S., for the price paid is already too high," she said.
In 2008, for the 11th year in a row, more law enforcement officers, 71, died in traffic-related incidents than from gunfire or any other single cause of death. Mirroring the nationwide drop in traffic fatalities among the general public this year, the number of officers killed in traffic incidents was down 14 percent from 2007. Last year, a record high 83 officers died on our roadways. Of this year's traffic-related fatalities, 44 officers died in automobile crashes, 10 died in motorcycles crashes and 17 were struck and killed by other vehicles.
Among other causes of death, 17 officers succumbed to job-related physical illnesses, three died in aircraft accidents, two were fatally stabbed, two died in bomb-related incidents, and one each was beaten to death, drowned, accidentally electrocuted and died in a train accident.
Fifteen of the officers killed this year were women, equaling the all-time high set in 2002. 2008 marked the first time that more than 10 percent of the officers who died in a year were female. Among all officers killed in 2008, the average age was 40 and the officers had served an average of 12 years in law enforcement.
Texas, for the second year in a row, experienced the most law enforcement officer fatalities, although the state's 2008 total of 14 was down from 22 in 2007. California had 12 officer fatalities, followed by Florida and Pennsylvania, with eight each. Four of the eight Pennsylvania officers to die this year were members of the Philadelphia Police Department, which experienced the most deaths of any agency. Thirty-five states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands lost officers in 2008. Eight officers serving with federal law enforcement agencies also died this year, down from 17 in 2007.
Mr. Floyd cited a number of reasons for the sharp decline in officer fatalities this year: 1) better training and equipment, plus a realization among officers that "every assignment is potentially life-threatening, no matter how routine or benign it might seem;" 2) increased use of less-lethal weaponry, including TASER stun guns, which allow officers to apprehend resisting violent offenders with less chance of assault or injury; 3) more officers wearing bullet-resistant vests-over the past 20 years, vests have saved more than 3,000 law enforcement lives; 4) a downturn in violent crime-the Department of Justice reported that violent crime is at its lowest level since 1973; and 5) a tougher criminal justice system, with a record 2.3 million offenders in correctional facilities nationwide.