Despite the narrative that police have an increasingly dangerous job, the FBI reported Monday that of the only 76 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during 2013 – And of those 76, just 27 were killed as a result of criminal acts, the lowest figure in more than 50 years of FBI reporting.
The 27 deaths of officers as a result of criminal acts in 2013 were a significant reduction from 2012, when 49 officers were feloniously killed, as well as from 2011, when 72 officers were killed by assailants in the line of duty.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics list of the 10 most-dangerous professions doesn’t include law enforcement. The BLS said law enforcement accounted for just 2 percent of total U.S. fatal on-the-job injuries in 2013.
Other studies on the deaths of officers in the line of duty also showed police were far less likely to be killed in 2013 than they had been in decades. According to a count by the Officer Down Memorial Page, which collects data on line-of-duty incidents, there were far fewer deaths last year than in more than 40 years.
A 2013 tally by the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund showed 100 officers died in the line of duty last year, the fewest since 1944. Traffic-related fatalities were the leading cause of officer deaths in 2013. The report found that “firearms-related fatalities reached a 126-year low … with 31 officers shot and killed, the lowest since 1887 when 27 officers were shot and killed.”
The FBI data from 2013 said 26 officers were killed by firearms. The discrepancy is likely because the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports on Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted relies on incident reports from police agencies. The Officer Down Memorial Page and the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund are independent non-profit organizations that conduct their own counts. National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund data on police fatalities in 2014 shows total police fatalities are up this year from last, though details aren’t yet tallied.
Meanwhile, police are killing civilians at increasing rates. How increasing? No one knows. There is no reliable national data on how many people are shot and killed by police officers each year.
Officials with the Justice Department keep no comprehensive database or record of police shootings, instead allowing the nation’s more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies to self-report officer-involved shootings as part of the FBI’s annual data on “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement.
That number – which only includes self-reported information from about 750 law enforcement agencies – hovers around 400 “justifiable homicides” by police officers each year. The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics also tracks “arrest-related deaths.” But the department stopped releasing those numbers after 2009, because, like the FBI data, they were widely regarded as unreliable.
Activists have tried to mount independent campaigns to track these so-called officer-involved killings, but so far have been unable to create anything resembling a comprehensive list. Statewide efforts have seen slightly more success. In Utah, for example, the Salt Lake City Tribune recently reported that police in the state were the second-leading cause of homicide from 2010 to October 2014. Over that period, officers were responsible for more of the state’s homicides than gang members, drug dealers or child abusers.