2009 Law Enforcement fatalities: A tale of two trends

Total line-of-duty deaths drop to lowest level in 50 years; gun related

killings up 23% with five multiple-fatality shootings


March, 2010

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:

2000-2009 was one of the safer decades in recent law enforcement history, although it also saw the deadliest single day: September 11, 2001, when 72 officers were killed in the terrorist attacks on America. An average of 162 officers a year died in the 2000s, compared with 160 a year in 1990s, 190 in the 1980s, and 228 in the 1970s, which remains the deadliest decade for U.S. law enforcement.

Almost 23 percent of the firearms-related deaths in 2009—11 in all—involved officers responding to domestic disturbance calls. Unprovoked ambush attacks claimed another six officers’ lives.

After reaching an all-time high of 83 deaths in 2007, the number of law enforcement officers killed in traffic-related incidents has fallen each of the last two years. The preliminary total of 56 traffic-related deaths in 2009 was 21 percent lower than the 2008 figure and was the lowest annual number of traffic deaths since 1996.

Thirty-five states and Puerto Rico experienced officer fatalities during 2009. For the third year in a row, Texas (11), Florida (9) and California (8) had the most fatalities—a combined total of 28, or nearly 23 percent of the national total for 2009.

Six federal law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 2009, including three special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration who died in a helicopter crash in October while conducting counter-narcotics operations in Afghanistan.

The average age of the officers killed in 2009 was 39; the average length of their law enforcement service was 10.5 years.

All but one of the officers killed during 2009 were men; the one female officer was Tina Griswold, one of the four Lakewood (WA) officers ambushed in a local coffee shop on November 29. By contrast, nearly 10 percent of the officers killed in all of 2008 were women, the highest percentage in history.

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 the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund

Now celebrating its 25th year, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is a private non-profit [501(c)(3)] 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 18,661 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 high-tech, interactive exhibitions, 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.