A variety of pundits offered explanations for the decrease in officer deaths (lowest annual figure since 2013) ranging from less crime to better equipment to the President’s support of law enforcement. Considering that violent crime is increasing and there is nothing revolutionary about equipment, it seems that the best explanation is a greater caution or less proactivity on the part of police officers.

Arrests have decreased considerably in the US and fewer arrests mean less chance for violent encounters, see Are Cops Holding Back? There is a multitude of data and opinion indicating that cops are disengaging due to what they believe is a lack of support in some communities.

A recent report from NPR seems to back up this claim, NPR.

The Marshall Project proclaims, “About that so-called “war on cops.” The number of police officers killed in the line of duty dropped sharply in 2017 to its second-lowest total in 50 years,” in an effort to discredit any sense that cops are adversely affected by recent events, Marshall Project.

Policing is dangerous enough just responding to calls; one officer was murdered and four others shot responding to a domestic violence call in Colorado as I wrote this article.

I am in isolation; no other commentator offers this explanation.  But based on research from Pew and arrest data and the opinion of several police organizations, it seems probable that officers are using greater caution as to their proactive efforts. It should be noted that the Department of Justice recently funded research indicating that proactive policing reduces crime (citation above).

I also believe that officer families and loved ones are urging cops to be far less aggressive as they contemplate leaving law enforcement.

National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund Data for 2017-December 28, 2017

The number of law enforcement professionals nationwide who died in the line of duty in 2017 dropped to its lowest level in four years, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), a nonprofit group that has long tracked officer fatalities.

The NLEOMF announced in its 2017 Preliminary Law Enforcement Fatalities Report that 128 federal, state, local, tribal and territorial officers died in the line of duty over the past year, which is the lowest annual figure since 2013 when 117 officers died.

The 128 officer fatalities in 2017 represent a 10 percent decrease over the 143 who died in the line of duty last year, and reversed three consecutive years of increases in officer deaths.

Traffic-related incidents claimed the lives of 47 officers in 2017, a 13 percent drop compared to the 54 officers killed in traffic-related incidents in 2016. However, there was an increase in the number of officers killed in single-vehicle collisions, with 14 officers killed compared to 11 in 2016. Single-vehicle crashes accounted for 42 percent of all fatal crashes in 2017.

The number of officers struck and killed while outside of their vehicle decreased 40 percent over last year, with nine in 2017 compared to 15 in 2016. Over the past 20 years, traffic-related incidents have been the number one cause of officer fatalities.

Forty-four officers were shot and killed across the country in 2017, which represents a 33 percent reduction over 2016 when 66 officers died as a result of gunfire. Seven of these fatalities involved officers responding to a domestic disturbance, the number one circumstance of firearms-related deaths.

Thirty-seven officers died from other causes in 2017. Sixteen of those deaths were attributed to job-related ailments, mostly heart attacks (10). Seven officers died as a result of being beaten.

Five drowned while working during hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Four officers died as a result of an illness contracted during the 9/11 rescue and recovery efforts. Two officers died in a helicopter crash. Two died in boating accidents. One officer was stabbed to death.

Among the states, Texas had the highest number of officer fatalities with 14, followed by New York and Florida with nine, California with seven, and Georgia and North Carolina each had six. Twelve correctional officers died in the line of duty in 2017. There were five federal officer fatalities in 2017, along with five who served with territorial agencies, three with tribal agencies and two who served with university departments.

Nine of the fallen officers in 2017 were female, compared to seven in 2016. Among the officers who died this year, the average age was 42, and the average length of service was 13 years.

“After three consecutive years of rising deaths in the law enforcement profession, this year’s decline offered some encouraging news,” declared NLEOMF CEO Craig W. Floyd.

Mr. Floyd also noted that while there has been a recent spike in officer fatalities since 2013, the overall trend since the 1970s has been downward. He noted that in the 1970s our nation was averaging 234 line of duty deaths among officers each year. Over the last 10 years prior to 2017, the average annual fatality figure for officers had dropped 34 percent to 153 per year, and the 128 deaths in 2017 was lower still.

There are currently 21,183 names of officers killed in the line of duty inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC, dating back to the first known death in 1791. The deadliest year on record for law enforcement was 1930 when 307 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty. The last time officer fatalities dipped below 100 for a single year was 1944.

The statistics released are based on preliminary data compiled by the Memorial Fund and do not represent a final or complete list of individual officers who will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 2018.



FBI Data for 2016-October, 2017

The number of officers killed as a result of criminal acts in 2016 increased by 25 when compared with the 41 officers who were feloniously killed in 2015.

According to statistics collected by the FBI, 118 law enforcement officers were killed in line-of-duty incidents in 2016. Of these, 66 law enforcement officers died as a result of felonious acts, and 52 officers died in accidents.

In addition, 57,180 officers were victims of line-of-duty assaults.

Felonious Deaths

The 66 felonious deaths occurred in 29 states and in Puerto Rico. The number of officers killed as a result of criminal acts in 2016 increased by 25 when compared with the 41 officers who were feloniously killed in 2015.

The five-and 10-year comparisons show an increase of 17 felonious deaths compared with the 2012 figure (49 officers) and an increase of eight deaths compared with 2007 data (58 officers).

The annual Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted report for 2016 shows 118 law enforcement officers were killed and 57,180 were assaulted in the line of duty last year.

Circumstances: At the time the 66 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed:

  • 17 were ambushed (entrapment/premeditation);
  • 13 were answering disturbance calls (seven were domestic disturbance calls);
  • nine were investigating suspicious persons/circumstances;
  • six were engaged in tactical situations;
  • five were performing investigative activities (such as surveillances, searches, or interviews);
  • four were conducting traffic pursuits/stops;
  • three were investigating drug-related matters;
  • three were victims of unprovoked attacks;
  • one was answering a burglary in progress call or pursuing a burglary suspect(s);
  • one was answering a robbery in progress call or pursuing a robbery suspect(s); and
  • four were attempting other arrests.

Weapons: Offenders used firearms to kill 62 of the 66 victim officers. Of these 62 officers, 37 were slain with handguns, 24 with rifles, and one with a shotgun. Four officers were killed with vehicles used as weapons.


Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2016, Crime in America.

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.