After an unexpected surge in 2007, the number of law enforcement officers killed in the United States plummeted 41 percent during the first six months of this year, reaching the lowest level in more than four decades, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) and Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) have announced.
The groups' preliminary data show 59 officers died between January 1 and June 30, 2008. The last time the mid-year total was that low was 1965, when there were 55 line-of-duty deaths. By comparison, 100 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the first six months of 2007. That was the highest six-month total since 1978. By the end of 2007, a total of 181 law enforcement officers had lost their lives in the line of duty, which was 20 percent higher than the previous year.
"While these statistics offer little comfort to the loved ones and colleagues of those officers who made the ultimate sacrifice this year, for the law enforcement profession as a whole the preliminary numbers for 2008 are encouraging, especially in light of the dramatic increase in officer deaths that occurred just last year," said NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig W. Floyd. "It is our hope that 2008 will usher in a new era in which far fewer law enforcement officers are injured or killed in the line of duty," he added.
"The tremendous decrease in officer deaths so far this year is encouraging. However, the families of America's law enforcement officers know full well that each and every day is filled with risk and at any time the number of officer deaths can soar again," said Jennifer Thacker, C.O.P.S. National President. "C.O.P.S. is actually seeing an increase in the number of requests for services from our membership of over 15,000 surviving families because of the large number of deaths in 2007. We keep hoping and praying that the number of law enforcement line-of-duty deaths will continue to decrease," she said.
This year's decline has been driven by substantial reductions in all types of officer deaths, especially fatal shootings. The number of officers shot and killed declined 45 percent, from 38 during the first half of 2007 to 21 this year. That was the lowest number of firearms-related fatalities since 1960, when there were 18 such deaths.
Traffic-related deaths were down by nearly 35 percent, from 46 during the first half of 2007 to 30 in 2008. Among those, 21 officers died in automobile crashes, three died in motorcycle crashes and six were struck and killed by other automobiles while outside their own vehicles. If current trends continue, 2008 will be the 11th year in a row in which more officers are killed in traffic-related incidents than by gunfire or any other single cause of death.
Eight officers died during the first six months of 2008 from other causes, including five who succumbed to job-related physical illnesses and two who were fatally stabbed.
Texas, with seven, experienced the most law enforcement officer fatalities during the first half of 2008. California had five fatalities, followed by Georgia, with four, and Ohio and Oklahoma, with three each. Twenty-six states and the U.S. Virgin Islands experienced officer fatalities between January 1 and June 30. Four members of federal law enforcement also died during this time period.
Saying it is impossible to isolate a single cause for this year's stunning decline in officer fatalities, Mr. Floyd noted that increased awareness of officer safety issues was undoubtedly a factor. "The dramatic surge in officer fatalities in 2007 grabbed the attention of law enforcement professionals, policymakers and trainers across the nation, which in turn prompted many agencies to bolster their officer safety procedures and equipment," he said. "Last year's shockingly high fatality figures were an important reminder to officers to treat every assignment as if it were potentially life-threatening, no matter how routine or benign it might seem." Mr. Floyd also credited an increased emphasis on law enforcement driver training, "move over" laws and other traffic safety measures for making it safer for officers on our roadways, where the majority of our officers lose their lives.