U.S. Sees 56% Increase in Gun Fatalities, Rise in Police Deaths

U.S. law-enforcement deaths rose to the highest in three years, led by a 56 percent increase in the number killed by gunfire, leaving police on edge across the nation after the ambush of two New York City officers and shots fired at a squad car in Los Angeles.

This year, 126 federal, state and local officers have died in the line of duty, according to data compiled and released today by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. That’s up from 102 last year. Fifty were shot, compared with 32 in 2013.

Police have been on heightened alert as protests rocked the nation over the killings of unarmed black men by white police officers in Missouri and New York. Grand juries refused to indict officers in either case. Demonstrations flared into violence in some places, confronted by authorities including police in riot gear.

“I’m deeply concerned that a growing anti-government sentiment in America is influencing weak-minded individuals to launch violent assaults against the men and women working to enforce our laws and keep our nation safe,” Craig Floyd, the memorial fund’s chairman, said in a telephone interview. “Enough is enough. We need to tone down the rhetoric and rally in support of law enforcement and against lawlessness.”

This year, 49 of the 126 deaths, or more than one-third, came in traffic accidents.

Twenty-four more were from job- related illnesses such as heart attacks while performing their duties, according to memorial fund data.

Deaths Spike

Police deaths spiked to 171 in 2011, which prompted a number of new initiatives and policy changes aimed at promoting law enforcement safety. That led to a sharp decline in line-of- duty deaths to 123 in 2012 and 102 last year, the lowest fatality figure since 1944.

The deadliest year for law enforcement was 1930 when 300 police officers were killed. The deadliest single incident was the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, resulting in 71 police deaths.

In June, a husband and wife team in Las Vegas shot to death two police officers having lunch at a cafe, killed a man who tried to intervene in a Wal-Mart store, then died themselves. In September, a gunman in Pennsylvania used a sniper rifle to kill one state trooper and wound another.

On Dec. 20, two patrolmen in a squad car in Brooklyn were ambushed in what officials described as an “execution-style” shooting. The gunman, who killed himself, left messages on social media claiming to be retaliating for police killings of unarmed black men.

Since then, at least seven New Yorkers have been charged with making threats against police officers.

On Sunday night in Los Angeles, police went on tactical alert after two officers in a patrol car said two men opened fire on them. Neither was injured and one person was taking into custody.

Deputy Chief Bob Green said investigators were looking into whether the officers might have driven into a gang dispute and were fired at inadvertently, according to the Associated Press.