Fewer police officers died in the line of duty in 2023, but ‘scary number’ were shot: Study
USA Today | 11 January 2024
USA Today | 11 January 2024
According to the report, 136 federal, state, county, municipal, military, tribal and campus officers died in the line of duty in 2023, a 39% decrease from the year before.
The report found 47 officers were killed by gunfire, 37 died in traffic-related incidents and 52 died from “other causes” such as medical events, aircraft crashes and other forms of violence.
Overall, Alexander said, the decrease in officer fatalities is driven by a decline in deaths from COVID-19, which killed 70 officers in 2022 but five in 2023, according to the report.
Firearms-related deaths also decreased 25% in 2023, according to the report. Alexander said advances in medical treatment and training may be driving the decrease in firearms deaths, which he called an “outlier.”
Justin Nix, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, said that while improvements in medicine may have influenced officer deaths over the course of several decades, its unlikely to explain the fluctuations seen year to year.
Nix said its difficult to determine what is causing small changes in such a rare phenomenon, but he said it could be connected to broader crime trends. He said that as crime has increased in the past decade, so has the number of officers shot.
Last year, fewer people were killed and injured by gun violence nationwide, according to the most recent data from the Gun Violence Archive.
“We know that violence in the community and especially shootings in the community tend to be pretty fairly correlated with shootings of and by police officers,” Nix said.
Alexander said he was surprised to see the number of firearms-related deaths decline in 2023, and the change could be obscuring a disturbing trend in officer safety, citing data released by the National Fraternal Order of Police. According to the organization, a record 378 police officers were shot while on the job in 2023, a 14% increase from the previous year.
“I do think that the number we’re reporting for 2023 is masking that in the real world, on the streets, officers are facing really dangerous and increasingly dangerous circumstances,” Alexander said.
Patrick Yoes, national president of the fraternal order, called the number of officers shot “drastic” and attributed the increase in nonfatal shootings to a number of factors, including the “long-term effects of a lack of respect for law enforcement.”
Yoes said repairing the”adversarial relationship” between the public and the police could help keep officers safer. He urged Congress to pass laws that would increase federal penalties against people who intentionally target law enforcement officers.
Alexander said officer safety and wellness programs could further reduce the number of officers killed each year. He cited a recent study on stop sticks − devices used to deflate a vehicle’s tires linked to nearly two deaths in the line of duty each year − as an example of the kind of research that could be beneficial.
“I certainly hope that those efforts continue to pay off year after year, and perhaps our lower than last year numbers are a reflection of that,” he said. “Perhaps to some degree, we collectively are moving the needle on the risk that the men and women in uniform are facing.”
Nix said having fewer guns on the streets could help reduce the number of officers and civilians alike who are victims of gun violence each year.
“At the end of the day, if there weren’t so many guns, fewer people would be shot across the board.”
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