- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2017

U.S. law enforcement fatalities fell by 10 percent in 2017, marking the first decrease in line-of-duty deaths in three years, according to a report issued Thursday by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Forty-seven of the 128 line-of-duty deaths reported this year were from traffic-related incidents, making that the leading cause of officer fatalities in 2017.

Fatal shootings of officers accounted for 44 deaths, a decline from the 66 fatal shootings reported in 2016. Ambush-style attacks, in which unsuspecting officers were fatally shot, notably dropped from 21 incidents in 2016 to eight this year.

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Craig W. Floyd, the memorial fund’s CEO, said last year’s high number of ambush killings was an anomaly. But he said they did help raise awareness of precautions officers could take to protect themselves from being blindsided, and those actions could have contributed to the decline in fatal attacks in 2017.

“When you hear about your colleagues across the country being shot and killed without any provocation, this creates a different mindset in the officers so they are more aware of their situation,” Mr. Floyd said.

Law enforcement agencies also are receiving a higher level of public support, both from elected officials, like President Trump, and from within the communities they serve, Mr. Floyd said. That could be fostering a less hostile environment for officers.

“When President Trump is out in public, he praises law enforcement. That message is trickling down to the public,” Mr. Floyd said. “Public support for law enforcement is certainly louder than it has been in past years.”

This year’s fatal shootings included the ambush attack on New York Police Department Officer Miosotis Familia, who was killed in July as she sat in a mobile command unit in the Bronx. The shooter had a history of mental illness and was killed in a shootout with police after the attack.

One unsolved shooting involved Baltimore Police Department homicide detective Sean Suiter, who was killed with his own firearm while struggling with a man he approached on the street as part of a follow-up on a homicide investigation. The circumstances of his death prompted additional scrutiny when it was revealed that he was killed one day before he was to testify to a grand jury as part of a federal police corruption case.

The FBI this week declined to take over the investigation into the detective’s death, saying “no information has been developed to indicate Detective Suiter’s death was directly connected to an FBI investigation.”

Of the 47 officers killed in traffic incidents this year, nine were struck and killed while outside of their vehicles, compared to 15 last year. The decrease could be an indication that drivers are following laws designed to give emergency workers more room when working on the side of the road.

Thirty-seven officers died from other causes, including seven who were beaten, five who drowned, and 16 who died from job-related ailments.

Law enforcement deaths have generally been on the decline since the 1970s, but this year’s decrease comes after a three-year uptick. The last time fewer officers were killed was in 2013, when 117 deaths were reported.

Mr. Floyd said that the number of felonious killings of law enforcement officers tends to closely track with the national number of homicides, and noted that some preliminary reports have shown a decrease in the number of homicides in the U.S. in 2017. The three-year period in which police officer deaths were on the rise corresponds with an uptick in crime rates across the country.

“I think we all need to realize when officers area at risk we are all at risk,” Mr. Floyd said.

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