Craig Floyd, Executive Director, National Law Enforcement Memorial
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Almost every day this past year we have heard the reports of new casualties in the fight for freedom-another assault, another injury, another death. A few of the casualties drew national attention, but most remained faceless and nameless, just another statistic to add to the growing total of lives lost for liberty. Sadly, it has gotten to the point where we seem to take these human sacrifices for granted.
Paul Harvey, America’s beloved voice of radio, once defined news as “something exceptional, unusual.” Well, maybe that helps to explain why these mounting casualties do not even receive front-page attention anymore. In a way, I suppose, we have come to expect and, thus, accept death as the cost of freedom.
The war and subsequent occupation in Iraq has resulted in the loss of nearly 500 U.S. soldiers this past year. And, each and every one of those brave men and women-and their families-deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. But, the casualties I am referring to did not occur in Iraq. They occurred here at home, on the streets of America. We do not call them soldiers. We call them law enforcement officers.
Last year, our nation lost nearly 150 federal, state and local law officers in the line of duty. If history is any indication, another 60,000 officers were assaulted and about 20,000 of those assaults resulted in injury.
This marks 54 consecutive years that more than 100 law enforcement officers have been killed in the performance of duty. During the last 10 years alone, more than 1,600 officers have died. Preliminary data shows that of the officers who died last year, 53 died in automobile accidents; 52 of them were shot to death; 13 were struck and killed by vehicles; 11 died in motorcycle accidents; six succumbed to job-related illnesses; four drowned; two suffered fatal beatings; two fell to their deaths; one was stabbed to death; one died in an aircraft accident; one was electrocuted; one was strangled; and one was hit by a train.
Thirty-eight of the 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and one federal agency suffered at least one officer fatality last year, with California at the top of the list with 18 deaths. Even Vermont, which has had only 15 law enforcement fatalities in their entire history prior to 2003 – by far the fewest of any state in the nation – had two police officers killed last year. In other words, there is not necessarily any rhyme or reason when it comes to law enforcement sacrifice.
If you are a police officer, that life-threatening moment could come at any time, or any place. But, be assured, these sacrifices have not been in vain. We’re told by the people who keep such statistics that violent crime in our country has declined by almost 50% since 1993.
In fact, the FBI just reported on December 15 that the overall violent crime rate during the first half of 2003 dropped by another 3.1 percent. Incredibly, this means that despite the best efforts of drug traffickers, gangsters and terrorists, America is safer today than at any time in the last 25 years.
As it turns out, America is also a safer place for our law officers. Just consider that since the 1970s, when 224 officers were killed on average each year, police fatalities have decreased by more than 25 percent. In fact, the odds of being killed in the line of duty if you are a police officer today are about one in 6,000.
Thirty years ago, about one out of every 1,500 officers made the ultimate sacrifice. More officers, who are better trained and equipped than ever before, are the major reasons for this improved level of police safety.
Later this year, all of the names of the officers who died in 2003 will be inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is a fitting honor for a deserving group of Americans. But, our obligation to those fallen heroes goes much deeper. We must never take human sacrifice for granted and we must never accept death as the cost of freedom, whether it occurs abroad or here at home.