The number of law enforcement professionals nationwide who died in the line of duty in 2017 dropped to its lowest level in four years, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), a nonprofit group that has long tracked officer fatalities.
The NLEOMF announced in its 2017 Preliminary Law Enforcement Fatalities Report that 128 federal, state, local, tribal and territorial officers died in the line of duty over the past year, which is the lowest annual figure since 2013 when 117 officers died. The 128 officer fatalities in 2017 represents a 10 percent decrease over the 143 who died in the line of duty last year, and reversed three consecutive years of increases in officer deaths.
Traffic-related incidents claimed the lives of 47 officers in 2017, a 13 percent drop compared to the 54 officers killed in traffic-related incidents in 2016. However, there was an increase in the number of officers killed in single-vehicle collisions, with 14 officers killed compared to 11 in 2016. Single-vehicle crashes accounted for 42 percent of all fatal crashes in 2017.
The number of officers struck and killed while outside of their vehicle decreased 40 percent over last year, with nine in 2017 compared to 15 in 2016. Over the past 20 years, traffic-related incidents have been the number one cause of officer fatalities.
Forty-four officers were shot and killed across the country in 2017, which represents a 33 percent reduction over 2016 when 66 officers died as a result of gunfire. Seven of these fatalities involved officers responding to a domestic disturbance, the number one circumstance of firearms-related deaths.
Thirty-seven officers died from other causes in 2017. Sixteen of those deaths were attributed to job-related ailments, mostly heart attacks (10). Seven officers died as a result of being beaten. Five drowned while working during hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Four officers died as a result of an illness contracted during the 9/11 rescue and recovery efforts. Two officers died in a helicopter crash. Two died in boating accidents. One officer was stabbed to death.
Among the states, Texas had the highest number of officer fatalities with 14, followed by New York and Florida with nine, California with seven, and Georgia and North Carolina each had six. Twelve correctional officers died in the line of duty in 2017. There were five federal officer fatalities in 2017, along with five who served with territorial agencies, three with tribal agencies and two who served with university departments.
Nine of the fallen officers in 2017 were female, compared to seven in 2016. Among the officers who died this year, the average age was 42, and the average length of service was 13 years.
“After three consecutive years of rising deaths in the law enforcement profession, this year’s decline offered some encouraging news,” declared NLEOMF CEO Craig W. Floyd. “Sadly, though, the 128 officers who lost their lives in 2017 reminds us that public safety comes at a very steep price and we must never take the service and sacrifice of our policing professionals for granted, nor should we ever forget the officers who died and their families.”
Mr. Floyd also noted that while there has been a recent spike in officer fatalities since 2013, the overall trend since the 1970s has been downward. He noted that in the 1970s our nation was averaging 234 line of duty deaths among officers each year. Over the last 10 years prior to 2017, the average annual fatality figure for officers had dropped 34 percent to 153 per year, and the 128 deaths in 2017 was lower still.
Among the reasons cited by Mr. Floyd for the decline in officer fatalities were better training, improved equipment, a greater emphasis on officer safety and wellness than ever before, and a strengthening of relationships between law enforcement and the public.
There are currently 21,183 names of officers killed in the line of duty inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC, dating back to the first known death in 1791. The deadliest year on record for law enforcement was 1930 when 307 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty. The last time officer fatalities dipped below 100 for a single year was 1944.
The statistics released are based on preliminary data compiled by the NLEOMF and do not represent a final or complete list of individual officers who will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 2018. For a complete copy of the preliminary 2017 Law Enforcement Fatalities Report, go to: www.LawMemorial.org/FatalitiesReport.