Deaths in line of duty lowest in 52 years

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In a sharp break with previous trends, deaths in the line of duty suffered by police and other U.S. law enforcement personnel dropped to their lowest levels in 52 years during the first half of 2012, a report released Thursday stated.

A total of 53 officers across the country have been killed since January, reversing a recent trend toward violence which saw 98 deaths at the same time last year and 87 in 2010. The report, conducted by the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, includes all enforcement agencies, from local police departments to federal agencies such as the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security.

“We’ve witnessed this terrible increase in officer fatalities in the last couple years, and now there has been a lot more focus on law enforcement safety,” said Craig Floyd, CEO of the Fund. “It’s a pleasant surprise to see the number of deaths drop so dramatically.”

Among those killed, the leading cause of death came from traffic-related incidents; 18 officers died in crashes during pursuits or routine patrols, while three were struck by traffic during a stop. The fatalities represent a 33 percent decrease from last year.

Gun violence — which became the leading cause of officer deaths in 2011 — has dropped 53 percent, with 19 officers killed by gunfire nationwide so far this year compared to 40 at this point last year. The remaining deaths resulted from stabbings, falls or heart attacks and other illnesses.

Surprisingly, the fund reported only one death in Illinois this year and no deaths in Chicago, despite myriad reports in recent months of escalating gang violence in the city. The state is fourth highest in total officer deaths, and the Chicago police department had faced the highest fatality rate of any department besides New York City, according to Mr. Floyd.

“All causes are down this year,” Fund spokesman Steve Groeninger said. “We track fatality records every day, and it became clear to us in the early months that the numbers were going down.”

Still, Mr. Floyd cautioned that the low fatality rate should not distract from serious threats to law enforcement agencies, many of which he said are facing severe budget cuts.

“We can’t look at these numbers and say that obviously, officers have everything they need to do their jobs safely — that’s simply not the case,” he said. “We are cutting back on officer strength, and that could very well spell trouble moving forward.”

Mr. Floyd said while many officers enjoy greater access to protective equipment and technology, criminal threats remain and reduced funding could put agencies at risk. He also said while fatality rated dropped, many more officers are still assaulted or injured.

Approximately 800,000 law enforcement officers currently serve across the country, according to the Fund. In 2010, the FBI reported that about 53,000 officers were assaulted in some way, being threatened or injured in the course of their official duties.

Mr. Floyd said the mid-year study, while revealing positive numbers, is still a reminder of the dangerous commitment officers make.

“Even when the numbers are lower than normal, I still think it sends a chilling message,” he said. “We all owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas each has seen three fatalities thus far in 2012. Eight states — Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, and Utah — each lost two officers during the same period.

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