ATLANTA – Two officers in a remote Alaska town were ambushed as they chatted on a street. A California officer and deputy were killed by an arson suspect with a high-powered rifle as they tried to serve a warrant. Two other officers doing anti-drug work were gunned down by men along a busy Arkansas highway.
These so-called cluster killings of more than one officer helped make 2010 a particularly deadly year for law enforcement. Deaths in the line of duty jumped 37 percent to about 160 from 117 the year before, according to numbers as of Tuesday compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit that tracks police deaths.
There also was a spike in shooting deaths. Fifty-nine federal, state and local officers were killed by gunfire in 2010, a 20 percent jump from last year’s figures, when 49 were killed. The total does not include the death of a Georgia State Patrol trooper shot in the neck Monday night in Atlanta as he tried to make a traffic stop.
And 73 officers died in traffic incidents, a rise from the 51 killed in 2009, according to the data.
Craig Floyd, director of the Washington-based fund, said the rise could be an aftershock of economic troubles as officers in some communities cope with slashed budgets.
“We’re asking our officers to do more with less. We’re asking them to fight conventional crime, and we’re asking them to serve on the front lines in the war against terror,” he said.
Last year’s toll of 117 officers killed was a 50-year low that encouraged police groups. But this year’s total is more the norm than an anomaly: The number of police deaths has topped 160 five times since 2000.
The deaths were spread across more than 30 states and Puerto Rico – with the most killings reported in Texas, California, Illinois, Florida and Georgia.
Maria Haberfeld, professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the rise of community-oriented policing has had the unintended consequence of lessening the public’s respect for officers.
“It’s a cascading effect of the people thinking police are here to serve and protect them on an individual basis” instead of acting as an arm of the government, she said. “We spend hours teaching children about Shakespeare and history, but we don’t devote even an hour a week to the role of police in creating the world in which we live.”