WASHINGTON – Law enforcement deaths this year dropped to their lowest level since 1959, while the decade of the 2000s was among the safest for officers – despite the deadliest single day for police on Sept. 11, 2001.
The drop in deaths, cited in a police group’s report Monday, was tempered by an increase in firearm deaths. In one horrific November shooting, four officers were executed as they discussed their upcoming shift in a Parkland, Wash., coffee shop.
Through Dec. 27, the report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found:
124 officers were killed this year, compared to 133 in 2008. The 2009 total represents the fewest line-of-duty deaths since 108 a half-century ago.
Traffic fatalities fell to 56, compared to 71 a year ago. The report said the decline was partly attributed to “move over” state laws, which require motorists to change lanes to give officers clearance on the side of a road.
Firearms deaths rose to 48, nine more than in 2008. However, the 39 fatalities in 2008 represented the lowest annual figure in more than five decades.
Thirty-five states and Puerto Rico had officer fatalities in 2009, with Texas the only state in double figures. Texas had 11 fatalities, followed by Florida, 9; California, 8; and North Carolina and Pennsylvania, 7.
Six federal officers died in 2009, including three Drug Enforcement Administration special agents killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan while conducting counter-narcotics operations.
One female officer was killed in 2009, compared with 13 the previous year. There was no explanation for the decline.
An average of 162 officers a year died in the 2000s, compared with 160 in the 1990s, 190 in the 1980s and 228 in the 1970s – the deadliest decade for U.S. law enforcement. Seventy-two officers died on Sept. 11.
“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,” said the Memorial Fund’s chairman and chief executive officer, Craig Floyd.
“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.”
Fifteen deaths occurred in five incidents during the year, showing the potential danger in domestic disturbances, traffic stops and serving arrest warrants.
In March, four Oakland, Calif., officers were killed after a traffic stop and subsequent barricade incident.
Three Pittsburgh officers, responding to a domestic disturbance, were ambushed in April by a heavily armed gunman wearing a bullet-resistant vest.
That same month, two Okaloosa County, Fla., sheriff’s deputies were gunned down while trying to arrest a domestic violence suspect.
In July, two Seminole County, Okla., sheriff’s deputies were shot and killed while trying to serve an arrest warrant.
Domestic disturbance calls were particularly dangerous for officers in 2009, resulting in 11 deaths, while unprovoked ambushes led to the deaths of six officers.
The report was issued in conjunction with a second police group, Concerns of Police Survivors.