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Following a 50-Year Low, Law Enforcement Fatalities Surge 43 Percent During the First Half of 2010

Fatal Shootings, Traffic-Related Deaths Increase Sharply from 2009; California, Texas and Florida Experience the Most Fatalities

July 21, 2010

Washington, DC – After reaching a 50-year low in 2009, the number of U.S. law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty surged nearly 43 percent during the first six months of 2010, according to preliminary data released today by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). If the mid-year trend continues, 2010 could end up being one of the deadliest years for U.S. law enforcement in two decades.

Preliminary NLEOMF statistics show that 87 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty between January 1 and June 30, 2010. That compares with 61 officers who were killed during the first six months of 2009, an increase of 42.6 percent.

By June 30, 2010, officer fatalities had already reached 75 percent of the total for all of 2009, which was 116. That represented the fewest line-of-duty deaths since 1959.

“It is certainly disheartening that last year’s encouraging news on officer fatalities has not continued into 2010,” said NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig W. Floyd. “These latest figures provide a grim reminder that, even with all of the safety improvements that have been achieved in recent decades, our law enforcement officers still face grave, life-threatening dangers each and every day.”

He added, “As governments across the country face tighter and tighter budgets, we must ensure that critical officer safety measures such as training, equipment and personnel are not sacrificed. If our dedicated law enforcement officers are to continue to drive down crime, as they have done so successfully in recent years, then they must have the necessary resources to protect our communities and themselves.”

All major categories of officer deaths rose sharply during the first half of 2010, according to the NLEOMF’s preliminary data.

Firearm-related deaths increased 41 percent, from 22 during the first six months of 2009 to 31 in the first half of 2010. Six officers this year died in three separate multiple-fatality killings:

  • On February 25, Fresno County (CA) Sheriff’s Deputy Joel Wahlenmaier and Reedley (CA) Police Officer Javier Bejar were shot while attempting to serve an arrest warrant on a suspected arsonist; Deputy Wahlenmaier died that day, and Officer Bejar succumbed to his injuries on March 1.

  • On May 20, Sergeant Brandon Paudert and Officer Bill Evans of the West Memphis (AR) Police Department were gunned down following a traffic stop by two suspects armed with AK-47s. 

  • On June 29, Tampa (FL) Police Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab were shot at close range following a traffic stop by a suspect with an outstanding warrant.

Traffic-related fatalities were up 35 percent, from 31 at mid-year 2009 to 42 as of June 30 of this year. The 2010 total included 29 officers who died in automobile crashes, four killed in motorcycle crashes and nine who were struck and killed while outside their vehicles—all increases from 2009. Deaths from all other causes combined jumped 75 percent, from 8 to 14 as of June 30.

The preliminary 2010 law enforcement fatality data were released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in conjunction with Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), a non-profit organization that provides critical assistance to the surviving family members and loved ones of officers killed in the line of duty.

“The membership of C.O.P.S. grows every year with each and every line-of-duty death. The rise in the number of deaths is certainly a major concern of C.O.P.S. because every year the number of requests for assistance, attendance at our healing grief retreats, and the need to help families through their darkest days weighs heavily on our organization,” said Linda Moon Gregory, National President of C.O.P.S.  “Knowing that survivors can experience intense grief for five years and have their grief issues resurface with every single officer death, C.O.P.S. is in it for the long haul to ensure our surviving families recover from their tragedy as emotionally healthy as possible,” she added.

Shortly after Ms. Gregory’s election to the national presidency of C.O.P.S., her son, a law enforcement officer, was involved in a shootout with the gunmen who had murdered Sergeant Paudert and Officer Evans in West Memphis, AR, on May 20. Two other law enforcement officers were wounded and the two suspects killed in the gun battle. She notes that her family is now seeing line-of-duty death issues from the perspective of an affected co-worker as well as a surviving family. Ms. Gregory’s brother, Officer James Moon of the Jacksonville (FL) Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed in the line of duty on September 27, 1971.

Other preliminary findings from the mid-year report include the following:

  • Thirty states and Puerto Rico experienced at least one officer fatality during the first six months of 2010. California had the most officer fatalities with nine, including five officers with the California Highway Patrol who died this year. Three states—California, Texas (8 fatalities) and Florida (6)—accounted for more than one-quarter of all officer fatalities in the first half of 2010. In addition, five federal law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty this year.

  • If current trends continue, 2010 will be the 13th consecutive year in which more law enforcement officers are killed in traffic-related incidents than die from any other single cause. Traffic-related incidents—which include automobile and motorcycle crashes, as well as officers struck while outside their vehicles—accounted for more than 48 percent of the fatalities between January 1 and June 30, 2010. Firearms-related fatalities made up nearly 36 percent, and deaths from all other causes combined accounted for the remaining 16 percent.

  • The average age of the officers killed during the first six months of 2010 was just over 40, with an average of 11.3 years of law enforcement service. Eighty-two of the fallen officers were men; five were women.

  • 2010 could end as one of the deadliest years for law enforcement since the late 1980s. If historical patterns hold true, the 2010 year-end fatality figure could approach the 2007 total of 185. Outside of 2001—when 240 officers died, including 72 killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11—2007 was the deadliest year for U.S. law enforcement since 1989, when there were 195 deaths.

The statistics released by the NLEOMF and C.O.P.S. are preliminary and do not represent a final or complete list of individual officers who will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial for 2010. The report, “Law Enforcement Officer Deaths, Mid-Year 2010 Report,” is available at www.LawMemorial.org/ResearchBulletin

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About the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund
Founded in 1984, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is a private non-profit organization dedicated to honoring the service and sacrifice of America’s law enforcement officers and to promoting officer safety. The NLEOMF maintains the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC, which contains the names of 18,983 officers who have died in the line of duty throughout U.S. history. The Memorial Fund is now working to create the first-ever National Law Enforcement Museum, which will tell the story of law enforcement through exhibits, collections, research and education. For more information, visit www.LawMemorial.org.

About Concerns of Police Survivors
Concerns of Police Survivors, Inc., provides resources to assist in the rebuilding of the lives of surviving families and affected co-workers of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty as determined by Federal criteria. Furthermore, C.O.P.S. provides training to law enforcement agencies on survivor victimization issues and educates the public of the need to support the law enforcement profession and its survivors. For more information, visit www.nationalcops.org.

Kevin Morison, NLEOMF
kevin@nleomf.org | (202) 737-7134