Law Enforcement Officer Fatalities 2009: A Tale of Two Trends
Total line-of-duty deaths drop to lowest level in 50 years; firearms-related killings rise 23 percent with five multiple-fatality shootings
December 29, 2009
Note: Shortly after the preliminary 2009 law enforcement fatality report was released, another law enforcement officer died in the line of duty. Pierce County (WA) Deputy Sheriff Kent Mundell succumbed to injuries he suffered on December 21, 2009, after being shot during a domestic disturbance call. His death brings to 125 the preliminary number of officers killed in the line of duty during 2009. The Memorial Fund's Research Bulletin has been adjusted to reflect the updated total.
Washington, DC – 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). The last time officer fatalities were this low was in 1959, when there were 108 line-of-duty deaths.
“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 Mr. 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, according to Mr. Floyd.
“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,” Mr. 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,” he said.
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. Even with the decline, however, traffic-related incidents were still the leading cause of officer fatalities for the 12th year in a row.
The preliminary 2009 law enforcement fatality data were released by the NLEOMF 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.
“Concerns of Police Survivors knows that with officer fatalities reduced in 2009, that means fewer new members will join C.O.P.S. than any other year since we organized in 1984. However, there are still more than 120 new families and agencies that will look to C.O.P.S. for the life-rebuilding support, as well as many of the over 15,000 families and affected co-workers who continue to cope with their officer’s death from earlier years,” said C.O.P.S. National President Jennifer Thacker. Her husband, Investigator Brandon Thacker of the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, was shot and killed in the line of duty in April 1998.
“I am personally learning that it’s never over for us, as my husband’s killer was released from prison on December 28, 2009. Even 11 years later, my family, Brandon’s co-workers and I are in need of the continued support from C.O.P.S.,” Mrs. Thacker said. “C.O.P.S. continues to keep the promises made to law enforcement survivors, providing support and resources to rebuild their shattered lives today and years later.”
Other preliminary findings from the report include the following:
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 2009. The report, “Law Enforcement Officer Deaths: Preliminary 2009,” is available at www.LawMemorial.org/ResearchBulletin
About Concerns of Police Survivors
Contact: Kevin Morison