WASHINGTON — Police fatalities in the United States rose in 2011 for a second year running, with shootings overtaking traffic accidents as the principal cause of death, a year-end report said Wednesday.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund said 173 local, state and federal law enforcement officers, including prison guards, died in the line of duty, up from 153 deaths in 2010 and a four-decade low of 141 in 2009.
For the first time in 14 years, gun-related incidents were the leading cause of death with 68 officers shot and killed — up from a 50-year low of 40 in 2008, and including 14 officers shot while carrying out arrests.
Traffic-related fatalities, the leading cause of death among on-duty police officers for 13 years, slipped back to 64 in 2011, with 44 officers dying in car crashes and 11 struck by other vehicles.
Reacting to the statistics, Attorney General Eric Holder, who oversees the Justice Department in Washington, said: “This is a devastating and unacceptable trend.”
“Each of these deaths is a tragic reminder of the threats law enforcement officers face each day, and the fact that too many guns have fallen into the hands of those who are not legally permitted to possess them,” he said.
Craig Floyd, chairman of the Memorial Fund, cited the figures as he voiced concern over “drastic budget cuts” which he said were putting law enforcers “at grave risk” across the country.
“At a time when officers are facing a more cold-blooded criminal element and fighting a war on terror, we are cutting vital resources necessary to ensure their safety and the safety of the innocent citizens they protect,” he said.
One in three police deaths this year took place in five hotspot states — Florida (14 deaths), Texas (13), New York (11), California and Georgia (10 each). Female officers accounted for 11 deaths.