A Deadly Three Months for U.S. Law Enforcement

As thousands of mourners packed the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul or watched on a huge screen erected in Logan Circle across the street, the Philadelphia Police Department laid to rest another fallen hero Tuesday morning. The funeral of Sergeant Patrick McDonald was a sad and poignant end to a deadly three months for American law enforcement.

A member of Philadelphia’s elite Highway Patrol, Sergeant McDonald was brutally executed on a North Philadelphia street September 23rd by a career criminal who had just recently received an early release from prison and already had an outstanding warrant for assaulting another police officer. He was the second Philadelphia Police officer to die in the line of duty during the month of September alone. Officer Isabel Nazario was killed September 5th when the police cruiser she was riding in was broadsided by an SUV driven by an intoxicated 16 year old . Including Sergeant Stephen Liczbinski (EOW: May 3, 2008) and Officer Charles Cassidy (EOW: November 1, 2007), four Philadelphia Police officers have died in the line of duty in the past 11 months.

As Commissioner Charles Ramsey said during Sergeant McDonald’s funeral, Philadelphia Police are feeling “disbelief, anger and sadness” right now.

And, tragically, they are not alone.

Over the last three months (July 1 and September 30, 2008), a total of 44 U.S. law enforcement officers died in the line of duty, according to preliminary data from the NLEOMF. That translates into about one officer killed every 50 hours nationwide. By contrast, between January 1 and June 30 of this year, 61 officers died – or about one fatality every 72 hours.

More, and more brutal, killings

Officer fatalities are still down sharply from 2007, which was one of the deadliest years for law enforcement in the past two decades. But the reduction in fatalities this year – an encouraging 40 percent as of June 30th – was only 25 percent by September 30th. After six months of steady declines, the 44 officers killed during the third quarter of this year represented a 10 percent increase from the 40 officers who died during the same period of 2007.

Not just the number, but also the brutality of some of the killings, seems to have intensified of late. On September 6th, Sergeant Paul Starzyk of the Martinez (CA) Police Department was shot and killed during a gun battle at a hair salon where the estranged husband of an employee had gone with a gun looking for his wife. On September 19th, Caldwell County (NC) Deputy Sheriff Adam Klutz was ambushed and fatally shot as he exited his patrol vehicle after responding to 9-1-1 hang-up call at a residence. One day later, Officer Kristine Fairbanks of the USDA Forest Service, died from a single gunshot wound to the head after she stopped to investigate a suspicious vehicle on Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.

Two officers killed in Chicago

And on September 28th, Chicago Police Officer Nathaniel Taylor was gunned down on the city’s South Side attempting to serve a warrant at the suspect’s residence. Ironically – and tragically – the same suspect had fired shots at police in the very same neighborhood 18 years earlier, an offense for which he served three years in prison.

Officer Taylor’s death was the last of the 42 that occurred during the third quarter of the year. The Chicago Police Department also experienced the first line-of-duty death during that period. On July 2nd, Officer Richard Francis was shot and killed with his service weapon after responding to a disturbance call on a Chicago Transit Authority bus near the Belmont District station where we worked on the city’s North Side.

Of the 44 officers who died during the past three months, 13 were shot, 21 were killed in traffic-related incidents, and two – both members of the Maryland State Police – died in a helicopter crash.

Fulfilling our mission

Three months ago, when officer fatalities were down 40 percent for the year, the NLEOMF cautioned that it was too early to “declare victory.” Now that fatalities have edged up over the past three months should be cause for concern, but not necessarily viewed as the beginning of a new and deadly trend.

Consistent with our mission to “provide information that will help promote law enforcement safety,” the NLEOMF will continue to monitor and report on the latest trends in officer deaths and safety issues.