More Law Enforcement Officers Are Being Assaulted, Injured, Or Killed On The Job

October 19, 2021

By Biometrica staffer

On Monday, Oct. 18, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) released the last of its Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) dataset for 2020, reporting that 60,105 law enforcement officers (LEOs) were assaulted while on the job last year — 4,071 more than the 56,034 who were assaulted in 2019. The FBI says assault data were reported by 9,895 law enforcement agencies nationwide.

The news has been inundated recently with stories of LEOs being killed or injured in the line of duty. For instance, the same day of President Biden’s speech, a gunman with an AR-15-style rifle shot at three constable deputies, killing one and leaving two others wounded outside a bar in Houston, Texas. The suspect escaped and has not yet been found. On Sunday in Arkansas, on the other hand, a man stabbed a police officer in the throat when they responded to what turned out to be the scene of a violent familial dispute. After receiving treatment, he is expected to make a full recovery.

Earlier this month, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent was killed in a shooting on a train in Tucson, Arizona, while another DEA agent and a task force officer from the Tucson Police Department were left seriously injured and in hospital. At the same time, a U.S. Marshal Service officer also died after he was injured “ in a vehicle accident while assisting with a law enforcement operation.”

Of all those officers assaulted, just over 30% were injured as a result. The FBI report said that well over half (44,421) were assaulted with “personal weapons,” meaning they were punched, kicked, slapped, etc., and about a quarter of these particular assaults resulted in injuries. Other methods of injury included 2,744 officers being assaulted with firearms; 1,180 with knives or other cutting instruments; and the rest with “other types of dangerous weapons.”

The number one type of call officers were injured at involved such disturbances as family disputes or bar fights, with just below 30% of officers being assaulted at these scenes. Around 16.1% were assaulted while attempting other arrests, 8.8% while investigating suspicious persons or circumstances, and 8.4% during traffic pursuits or stops. An additional 3.9% were assaulted while “handling persons with mental illnesses,” while 4.1% were assaulted in the course of civil disorder, such as mass disobedience or riots. 

Earlier data from the FBI revealed that in 2020, there were a total of 46 LEOs feloniously killed in the line of duty. Updated figures from Jan. 1 through Oct. 12, 2021, indicate that the number of LEOs feloniously killed in the line of duty this year is up to 59, much higher than at the same point in any of the last five years. Accidental deaths over the same period are currently at 46, up from 37 over the same timeframe in 2020.

“What we’re seeing this year is an alarming uptick in violence against law enforcement, and it’s something that deserves way more attention than it’s getting,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said during National Police Week. “We are looking at now 59 officers or agents murdered in the line of duty this year. That’s an over 50 percent increase from (the same time) last year.” He added, “That basically translates to every five days — more often than every five days in this country — an officer is murdered in the line of duty. And that’s totally unacceptable, and it’s a tragedy and it needs attention.”

This comes at a time when police have, much like the wider public, been dealing with extraordinary circumstances. For instance, the FBI’s analysis shows that there was a major 30% spike in the number of homicides in 2020, with numbers touching levels last seen during the 1990s. In addition, the general level of violent crimes has also been trending upward.

Worryingly, more of these incidents involve firearms than ever before. Coupled with this is an ongoing shortage in ammunition and a record number of first-time buyers purchasing guns, putting law enforcement further on edge. Per analysis from CNN and the Gun Violence Archive, 2021 is set to be a record year for gun violence, with weekend after weekend being marred by shooting incidents nationwide.

The biggest challenge LEOs are grappling with, however, appears to be Covid-19. Analysis by the Washington Post found that nearly 500 officers’ deaths can be attributed to the virus. This, the paper says, is “not just more than other causes of death combined, it’s more than all other deaths for the past three years.” It is also more than the number of officers who died as a result of 9/11.

On Saturday, Oct. 16, President Joe Biden spoke at the 40th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service to honor the LEOs who died in the line of duty over the last two years. During his speech, President Biden hailed those law enforcement personnel present at the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, saying, “Because of you, democracy survived.”

During the riot, many Capitol Police officers were caught up in the crowd and, as a result, suffered PTSD, which they have spoken and testified about extensively. In addition to one officer who was attacked by protestors and died the next day, over 100 other LEOs were injured. There were at least 1,000 instances of assaults against LEOS on the day, a Justice Department (DOJ) review of police officer bodycam footage concluded. In the many months since, at least four other long-term police officers who were present at the Capitol have taken their own lives.

While he did denounce the “Defund the Police” movement, President Biden touted police reform proposals that would hold officers accountable for breaking the law, and highlighted the impossible expectations that society has for police officers. “We expect you to be people ready to stand in the way and take a bullet for us. We expect you to be able to track down the bad guys. We expect you to be able to be the psychologist who talks the couple that are having a violent confrontation together to step back. We expect you to be everything. We expect everything of you, and it’s beyond the capacity of anyone to meet the tall expectations,” he said.

President Biden is not the only high-ranking official to call out the increased stress LEOs have been facing in recent years. Earlier this week, while announcing grants worth $7 million towards LEOs’ mental health, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said, “Each day, law enforcement officers across the country put their lives on the line for the communities they serve.” She added, “This has been especially true since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed hundreds of officers’ lives and added to the stress of an already difficult job.”

In addition to the physical injuries documented by the FBI’s LEOKA report, in the line of duty, LEOs often suffer high stress and experience traumatic incidents multiple times over their career, which can leave them suffering from various illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. This, in turn, can take a toll on their cognitive abilities, emotional regulation, connections with others, judgement, and performance, the DOJ says — all of which can have serious consequences in this line of work.