The number of law enforcement officers who died performing their duties declined by about 20 percent in 2012 after rising the two previous years, a nonprofit organization reported Thursday.
The D.C.-based National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund said in a report that 127 federal, state and local officers have died so far from injuries suffered on the job. The majority of officers who died were either shot or were victims of traffic accidents, figures show.
Traffic-related fatalities, though down from last year, were the leading cause of death — accounting for 50.
A Prince George's County police officer who was pursuing a suspect died in August when his cruiser ran off the highway and crashed into a ditch. Another Prince George's County officer died in a crash two months later. Neither officer was wearing a seat belt, prompting Chief Mark A. Magaw to stress the need for officers to buckle up inside their patrol cars.
Most of the victims were city or county police officers, but the list also includes a prison guard in Indiana who suffered a heart attack while responding to an unruly inmate, a deputy sheriff in Missouri who was fatally shot while responding to an emergency call about an unconscious person and a Coast Guard chief petty officer killed off the California coast while pursuing a vessel suspected of smuggling drugs.
The toll is on pace to be the lowest since 2009, when 122 officers died, and this year would be only the second year since 1960 that the number of fatalities has dipped below 130. The organization, which maintains a memorial wall in the District bearing the names of fallen officers, reported 165 deaths last year and 154 in 2010. The number of deaths topped 200 for most of the 1970s.
The decline is heartening after two straight "alarming" years and may suggest that police departments, though still battered by budget cuts, are placing a greater emphasis on officer safety, said Craig Floyd, the chairman and chief executive of the memorial organization.
"I think officers are approaching these potentially life-threatening situations in a more cautious, focused manner," said Mr. Floyd, noting the increased prevalence of body armor among officers.
Texas had the most law enforcement fatalities at 10, followed by Georgia with eight and Colorado and Maryland with six each. Twelve states and the District have not had any officers killed this year.
Thirteen of the officers who died were women.
There have been 49 firearms-related deaths this year, including 15 ambush attacks, as of Thursday. That's down from the 72 officers killed by gunfire last year.
The victims include two Topeka, Kan., police officers shot outside a grocery story last week while responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle, and two West Virginia state troopers who were killed during an August traffic stop.
A police officer in Cold Spring, Minn., was fatally shot last month in what authorities called an ambush killing.
In Willoughby, Ohio, an officer was killed when his cruiser collided with a pickup truck while en route to an emergency call in September. Chief Jack Beckwith cited the death as a reminder to his officers to be vigilant in responding carefully to emergencies and told his roughly 50-officer department that "this could have happened to every one of them."
"It definitely takes a heavy toll on everybody personally that's on the job," Chief Beckwith said. "We're small enough that everybody knows each other very well."
Other causes of death included job-related illnesses, stabbings and helicopter crashes. Two Atlanta police officers died in a helicopter crash in November during a nighttime search for a missing boy.
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
Entertainment News and Reviews from Washington, D.C. and beyond.
A carefully guided tour through the confusing world of modern bookselling and publishing.
Empowering mind/body/spirit and health dialogue along with cutting-edge, conscious social, political, and world commentary with Adam Omkara. Join the Evolution!
A politically conservative and morally liberal Hebrew alpha male hunts left-wing viper
Tea Party blasts IRS
Frederick Douglass statue unveiled
World's Ugliest Dog Contest
Spelling Bee finale
Marines train Afghan soldiers
Rolling Thunder 2013