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Law enforcement officer fatalities 2009: a tale of two trends

(WASHINGTON D.C.) Fewer U.S. law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 2009 than in any year in the past half century; an encouraging trend tempered by a disturbing increase in the number of officers who were killed by gunfire, many of them in brutal, ambush-style attacks.

As of December 28, 124 law enforcement officers had died in the line of duty from all causes, a 7 percent reduction from the 133 fatalities in 2008, according to preliminary data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).

"This year's overall reduction in law enforcement deaths was driven largely by a steep, 21 percent drop in the number of officers killed in traffic-related incidents," reported NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig W. Floyd. "However, that bit of good news was overshadowed by an alarming surge in the number of officers killed by gunfire."

According to Floyd, 48 officers were shot and killed in 2009, compared to 39 in 2008, which represents a 23 percent increase.

More than 30 percent of this year's fatal shootings (15 in all) occurred in just five incidents in which more than one officer was gunned down by a single assailant. These multiple-fatality shootings took place in Lakewood, WA (four officers), Oakland, CA (four officers), Pittsburgh, PA (three officers), and Okaloosa County, FL, and Seminole County, OK (two officers each). The 15 officers killed in these multiple-death shootings were the most of any year since 1981.

"To reach a 50-year low in officer deaths is a real credit to the law enforcement profession and its commitment to providing the best possible training and equipment to our officers," Floyd declared. "But we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into a state of complacency. There are nearly 60,000 criminal assaults against our law officers every year in this country, resulting in more than 15,000 injuries. And, over the past decade, more than 1,600 officers have been killed in the line of duty. Many of the cold-blooded career criminals our officers confront each and every day do not think twice about assaulting or killing a cop.”

Fifty-six officers were killed in traffic-related incidents in 2009, compared to 71 in 2008. Of the 56 traffic-related fatalities in 2009, 40 died in automobile crashes, 12 were struck and killed by automobiles while outside of their own vehicles and four died in motorcycle crashes. However, even with the decline, traffic-related incidents were still the leading cause of officer fatalities for the 12th year in a row.