A national police union leader says the uptick in shootings and ambush-style attacks targeting police this year is linked to growing hostility toward law enforcement.
A report for 2021 published last week by the National Fraternal Order of Police showed 314 officers had been shot in the line of duty through November — the most in the past three years, with another month to go.
The union said 312 officers were shot in all of 2020, 293 in 2019, and 237 in 2018. The report said 58 of the officers shot this year died, up from 47 in 2020 and 50 in 2019.
The FBI’s annual report on U.S. Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, first published in 1996, shows that all but four of the 55 police officers killed while on the job that year were gunned down.
“The recent erosion of respect for law enforcement has fueled more aggression towards police officers than what has been seen in previous years,” said national FOP President Patrick Yoes.
“As violence continues to be aimed at law enforcement, our officers continue to show up every day to keep the communities they serve safe,” Mr. Yoes said. “These men and women run toward danger to protect the public when everyone else is running away.”
Georgia police officer Henry Laxson was fatally shot last week while responding to a domestic abuse call. Days earlier, Virginia police officer Michael Chandler was fatally shot during a welfare check. In September, D.C. Metropolitan Special Police Officer Angela Washington was fatally shot on a street corner.
Chicago police officer Ella French was fatally shot during a traffic stop in August. She became the city’s first police officer to be gunned down on the job since 2018 and the first female officer to be fatally shot in the line of duty since 1988, authorities said.
After the shooting, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, called for an end to the “constant strife” between police and residents.
The FOP report said 95 ambush-style attacks targeted police this year, up 126% from the same time last year.
The majority of officers shot as of Nov. 30 worked in heavily populated states, including Texas (42), followed by Illinois (25), California (21), Florida (17), Georgia (17) and Alabama (15), according to the FOP report. States where no police were shot through November have smaller populations. The report listed Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont, and the U.S. territories of Guam and American Samoa.
Critics rejected Mr. Yoes’ argument that the increase is linked to hostility against police. Instead, they say, the numbers correspond to an increase in shootings overall and record gun sales.
Patrice Sulton, a lawyer who teaches at George Washington University Law School, told The Washington Times that the FOP statistics “do not support the narrative that violence against police officers has become normalized or commonplace.”
The report is purposely “designed to perpetuate and exacerbate fears that police are being targeted,” said Ms. Sulton, who is also the executive director of the D.C. Justice Lab nonprofit.
The U.S. is “still experiencing a global pandemic that has put more people in more precarious situations, which has coincided with an increase in shootings across the board” against both police and civilians, she said.
Ms. Sulton served on the District of Columbia’s police reform commission, which was created last year.
She noted a “surge in gun and ammunition sales at the outset of the pandemic.”
“As a result of leadership failing to provide necessary social supports, many people saw a new need to arm themselves,” she said.
Kris Henning, a professor of criminology at Portland State University, echoed Ms. Sulton’s sentiments during a phone interview with The Times.
“If more people are carrying weapons, and we know that sales have gone up — more people are armed, more people are maybe carrying weapons because they perceive danger — it’s going to make things an increased risk to officers overall,” Mr. Henning said.
Officers, he said, are already “often having to deal with people that don’t want to be stopped, don’t want to be arrested, and when they’re armed, that raises the, you know, the potential harm to the officer and to the individual themselves.”
Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokeswoman for the National Police Association, blames media and lawmakers who have been spewing anti-police rhetoric.
“It’s no secret that the unconscionable vilification of American law enforcement in the last 18 months by the media, activists, politicians and others has left much of the police profession short-handed, demoralized and sometimes hesitant to police proactively,” said Ms. Brantner Smith, a retired police sergeant.
She said the “Defund the Police” movement “has left many agencies lacking in training dollars just at a time when, as evidenced by the FOP’s alarming statistics, many police officers need more and better officer survival training.”
The FOP president called on Congress to pass the Protect and Serve Act, which would make it a federal crime to knowingly cause, or attempt to cause, injury to a police officer. Senate Republicans introduced the legislation this year.
The law, he said, would “address the terrible violence targeting our law enforcement officers … to better protect the brave men and women who wear the badge and send a clear message to those who would seek to do them harm.”