A Tale of Two Trends: Law Enforcement Fatalities in 2009

2009 was indeed a tale of two trends in U.S. law enforcement fatalities.

Fewer officers died in the line of duty in 2009 (124 as of yesterday) than in any year since 1959. However, the number of officers who were shot and killed surged 23 percent this year, driven in part by five separate incidents in which multiple officers were gunned down by one offender. Those are among the key findings of a new report released today by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, in conjunction with Concerns of Police Survivors.

“This year’s overall, 7 percent 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.”

Other findings of the preliminary 2009 law enforcement officers fatality report:

  • Nearly one-third of this year’s 48 firearms-related fatalities—15 deaths in all—occurred in just five incidents in which more than one officer was shot by a single gunman. These tragedies took place in Lakewood, WA (4 deaths); Oakland, CA (4); Pittsburgh, PA (3); Okaloosa County, FL (2), and Seminole County, OK (2). 2009 saw the most multiple-fatality law enforcement deaths since 1981.
  • The law enforcement heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in 2009 came from 35 states and Puerto Rico. For the third year in a row, Texas, Florida and California had the most fatalities—a combined figure of 28, or 23 percent of the national total.
  • Six federal law enforcement officers died in 2009, including three special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration who were killed in an October helicopter crash in Afghanistan while conducting counter-narcotics operations.
  • The average age of the officers killed this year was 39; they averaged 10.5 years of law enforcement service.
  • All but one of the officers killed this year were men; the one female was Officer Tina Griswold, one of the four Lakewood (WA) officers ambushed in November. By contrast, nearly 10 percent of the officers killed in all of 2008 were women, the highest percentage in history.

Read the full NLEOMF Research Bulletin at www.LawMemorial.org/ResearchBulletin, and leave your comments here.

Footnote: Sadly, just hours after the preliminary 2009 report was released, we learned of the latest law enforcement death of 2009: Pierce County (WA) Deputy Sheriff Kent Mundell succummed to gunshot wounds he suffered on December 21 as he and another deputy responded to a domsestic disturbance call in Eatonville. He is the sixth officer from the Seattle/Puget Sound area to be gunned down in just the past two months — a shocking spate of violence against law enforcement.