- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2022

More than 300 police officers died after contracting COVID-19 while on duty in 2021 — the biggest driver of death in a record year for law enforcement fatalities in the U.S., according to a preliminary study released Tuesday.

The 458 officers who either died of COVID-19 or were killed in the line of duty last year is up 55% from the 295 officers in 2020 and the highest number since 312 in 1930, according to a report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

The leading cause of death was COVID-19, which claimed 301 officers, nearly two-thirds of the total and more than twice the next two leading causes combined: felonious assaults (84) and firearms (62). The COVID-19 number, according to the group’s annual study, is based on reports from federal, state, local and tribal agencies that have specifically attributed the deaths of their officers to on-the-job exposure to the coronavirus.

“The year 2021 will go down as the year of the most line-of-duty fatalities since 1930 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and increases in traffic fatalities and firearms ambushes,” said Marcia Ferranto, the memorial fund’s chief executive.

Because officers are still being exposed to the virus while on the job, the organization says, “the number of line-of-duty deaths is sadly ever-increasing.”

In 2020, 145 officers died of COVID, the group said.

Of the 84 officers killed in felonious assaults, 62 were fatally shot. The most common fatal shootings were ambush-style attacks (19), more than three times the number recorded in 2020 (six).

Three weeks ago, Baltimore police officer Keona Holley died after she was shot in the head while sitting in her patrol car.

Michael Mancuso, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, said “as law enforcement personnel, we know full well the risks involved in our chosen profession — something we and our families deal with on a daily basis.”

“But nothing about police officer Holley’s death can be imagined or prepared for in advance,” Mr. Mancuso said on Dec. 23. “Keona’s life had meaning and mattered to her family, her friends and her colleagues, and now she is gone.”

Tuesday’s report shows that 11 of the officers who died from felonious attacks were struck by traffic, four were beaten to death, three were killed in car crashes, two were stabbed to death and two died of 9/11-related illnesses.

Patrick Yoes, president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, said the deadly violence against law enforcement is driven by increasing hostility toward police.

“The recent erosion of respect for law enforcement coupled with public figures spewing anti-police rhetoric have fueled more aggression towards police officers than what has been seen in previous years — undoubtedly emboldening violent criminals to commit brazen acts of violence against law enforcement,” Mr. Yoes said in a press release last week.

“If these violent criminals are willing to commit brazen acts of violence against the men and women of law enforcement, we can’t begin to fathom what heinous acts they are willing to commit against law-abiding citizens,” he said.

According to the report, the spike in traffic-related fatalities is “cause for concern” for law enforcement agencies. The 58 officers killed in traffic-related incidents last year is up 38% from 2020, when 42 were killed.

The majority of the 458 total officers killed as of Dec. 31 worked in heavily populated states, including Texas (84), followed by Florida (52), Georgia (39), California (24), North Carolina (21) and Tennessee (18). The states where no police were killed through December were Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Vermont.

Laura Cooper, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, told The Washington Times on Tuesday that “of the many lives lost to COVID, gunfire, traffic accidents, 9/11-related illnesses and more, the resolve of those who have chosen to serve remains steadfast.”

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is dedicated to memorializing law enforcement officials who die in the line of duty.

“This time of year always reminds us of the sacrifice of law enforcement and the importance of our mission to honor the fallen, tell the story of American law enforcement and make it safer for those who serve,” Ms. Ferranto said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story, citing the NLEO report, incorrectly included Washington, D.C., among jurisdictions reporting no officers killed in the line of duty in 2021.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

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