The number of law enforcement officers killed by firearms made 2011 a deadly year for officers now dealing with greater challenges in an already hazardous profession.
Across the nation, 173 officers were killed in the line of duty during 2011, a 13% increase from the 153 duty deaths in 2010. That year marked an 8.5% increase from the 141 officers killed in 2009, according to data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).
For the first time in 14 years, the number of officers killed by gunfire (68) surpassed the number killed in traffic-related accidents (64).
The rise in gunfire fatalities can be at least partially attributed to police manpower shortages caused by layoffs, downsized training budgets, and increasingly determined violent criminals, said Craig Floyd, NLEOMF's chairman and chief executive.
"Perhaps the most alarming part of the story is, if you go back two years, we had been on the heels of a two-year decline in law enforcement fatalities," Floyd told POLICE Magazine. "In 2009, we saw the lowest fatality number in 50 years."
Traffic-related line-of-duty deaths such as police-vehicle accidents or officers being struck have surpassed gunfire deaths for the past 14 years. However, historically gunfire has claimed many more officers. About 56% of the officers honored on walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial are gun-related.
"There were guns out there long before there were automobiles," Floyd said.
A recent survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) found that 60 percent of responding law enforcement agencies had cut back on training; 64 percent had cut back on buying or upgrading major equipment; and 58 percent had cut back on buying or upgrading technology.
Police layoffs that escalated in 2011 also reduced manpower, straining agencies' coverage of jurisdictions and potentially resulting in fewer two-officer cars, Floyd said.
In October, a Community Oriented Policing Services (C.O.P.S.) report estimated that nearly 12,000 police officers and sheriff's deputies will have been laid off by year's end.
"Drastic budget cuts affecting law enforcement agencies across the country have put our officers at grave risk," Floyd said. "At a time when officers are facing a more cold-blooded criminal element and fighting a war on terror, we are cutting vital resources necessary to ensure their safety and the safety of the innocent citizens they protect."
In addition to the officers killed by firearms or traffic-related incidents, 27 officers died as a result of job-related illnesses, four died as a result of falls, two drowned, and two were stabbed. One officer died due to each of the following causes: aircraft accident; beating; bomb-related incident; struck by a falling object; electrocution; and strangulation.
This year, Florida topped the list with more officers killed in that state (14) than in any other state. Florida was followed by Texas (13), New York (11), California (10), and Georgia (10).
Ten of the officers killed nationwide in 2011 served with federal law enforcement agencies. Seven of the officers served with correctional agencies. Among the fatalities were 11 women. On average, the officers who died in 2011 were 41 years old and had served for 13 years.
The preliminary 2011 law enforcement fatality report was released in conjunction with Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), a non-profit organization that provides assistance to the surviving family members of officers killed in the line of duty.
"The hard fact is that for the first time in 2011, more officers were killed in firearms-related incidents than traffic-related incidents," said Linda Moon Gregory, the group's national president.
The statistics were released in the report, "Law Enforcement Officer Deaths: Preliminary 2011 Report," and don't represent a final list of individual officers who will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in May.
By Paul Clinton