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Law Enforcement Line-Of-Duty Deaths Could Hit Grim Peak In 2021: Report

September 22, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

As of June 30, 2021, 155 federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement officers (LEOs) died in the line of duty, according to preliminary data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). That’s roughly a 10% increase over the 141 officers killed during the same period last year. Should the pace continue, the number of LEO deaths in the line of duty could exceed 2020’s total (of 295), which was the second highest on record. If that happens, officer line-of-duty deaths could end up near the 1930 toll of 312 fatalities, which is the most ever recorded by the NLEOMF in a single year.

During the first half of 2021, 33 officers died from felonious assaults including 28 who were killed in the line of duty as of a result of firearms, according to the NLEOMF report. Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) latest¬†Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) data showed that 44 LEOs were feloniously killed in the first seven months of the year. That number was just two away from the 46 officers who were reported as being killed feloniously¬†in all of 2020, and quite a bit higher than it has been over the past five years during the first seven months of the year, per the FBI’s LEOKA data.

Covid-19: The Biggest Killer Of LEOs In 2021

In the 155 confirmed LEO line-of-duty deaths in the first six months of the year, Covid-19-related fatalities were the leading cause. In the first half of the year, 71 officers succumbed to the disease, compared to 76 during the same period in 2020. Although that’s a 7% decrease from last year, Covid-19-related fatalities are still a major concern for law enforcement agencies nationwide. It’s been reported to NLEOMF that each of the 71 officers who died due to Covid-19-related causes this year died as a direct result of being exposed while conducting official duties.

It is expected that a significant number of LEO deaths due to the virus is yet to be reported by local agencies. NLEOMF and its Covid-19 task force are working with federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies to determine the full extent of this, the report says. Even as they conduct that study, since LEOs across the country continue to be “exposed to this invisible nemesis,” the number of line-of-duty deaths is continually changing and, unfortunately, many more Covid-19-related fatalities are anticipated, the report says.

In terms of geographical distribution, 29 states and the District of Columbia had zero Covid-19-related LEO deaths in the first half of 2021. Texas and Georgia had the highest rates of LEO deaths due to the pandemic.

Covid-19-related LEO deaths are reported by the NLEOMF as part of its “Other” category, which contains a wide variety of health-related deaths and other line-of-duty fatalities. Apart from the 71 officers who died of Covid-19, the category includes 18 more cases, of which 10 officers died from health-related illnesses, such as heart attacks and strokes, while three were beaten to death, three others drowned, and two additional officers were stabbed to death.

Image Source: Screengrab from the NLEOMF report

Traffic-Related Deaths

After Covid-19, the second highest killer of LEOs in the line of duty was traffic-related fatalities, which claimed the lives of 38 officers during the first half of 2021. Of those, 10 were automobile crashes involving a collision with another vehicle or fixed object, five were single-vehicle crashes, 19 were struck-by fatalities while on the side of the road, and four were as a result of motorcycle crashes.

Struck-by incidents are those in which an officer is hit by another vehicle while outside of their patrol vehicle. It was the leading circumstance in the traffic-related deaths category, and was also up 138% when compared with the just eight such deaths recorded in the first half of 2020. Many of these fatal struck-by crashes occurred while officers were investigating motor vehicle crashes or assisting motorists on the side of the road, the NLEOMF report says.

In the previous decade (2010 to 2019), 27 officers were killed on average due to traffic-related incidents in the first half of a given year. But that average has been at a much-higher 31 since the 2020s began.

Firearm-Related Fatalities On The Rise

Firearm-related fatalities were the third-leading cause of law enforcement deaths in the first six months of this year, representing a 4% increase over the same period last year. As mentioned earlier, 28 officers were shot and killed during the first half of 2021 versus 27 during the same period in 2020.

Of the 28 such fatalities this year, five officers were killed while attempting an arrest, four were killed during tactical encounters, four were ambushed and killed, and three each were killed responding to domestic disturbance calls, investigating suspicious activities or persons, and on disturbance calls. Two officers were killed during traffic enforcement and two others were killed while serving a felony warrant. During this time period, two officers were also fatally shot responding to burglary- or robbery-in-progress calls.

Handguns were the leading type of firearm used in fatal shootings of LEOs in the first half of 2021. Of the 28 officers who died as a result of firearm-related fatalities, nine were killed using handguns, six using rifles, and two with shotguns. In the other 11 cases, the type of firearm used is either still under investigation or is unknown.

Although the number of firearm-related fatalities of LEOs increased in the first six months of 2021, the overall average per decade in the first half of a given year since the 1970s has been steadily on the decline. In the 1970s, the average was 63; in the 1980s, it was 44; in the 1990s, it was 35; in the 2000s, it was 29; in the 2010s, it was 26; and in the 2020s, too, it has been at 26 (so far).