Police officers in the US are more likely to die when responding to domestic disputes than any other 911 call, according to a new report by the Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).
The report was part of a five-year study analyzing line-of-duty deaths, and reviewed 684 cases in total to identify the riskiest aspects of cops' day-to-day policing work, and what safety measures could be taken.
The report offers three main points of advice which it urges law enforcement agencies to immediately implement. "Encourage officers to slow down when responding to calls.. wear seat belts, and wear issued body armor."
The seat-belt and slowing down advice is due to the leading cause of police deaths, which was, by a big margin, traffic-related. The second-largest category was the shooting of officers while not responding to a call: cases where police were "ambushed in unprovoked attacks, performing tactical operations, serving warrants, and conducting follow-up investigative work."
The report comes at a time when sensitivity around police killings is heightened in the wake of two shootings which specifically targeted officers earlier this month, in Dallas and then in Baton Rouge. In Dallas, a sniper opened fire on police officers at a Black Lives Matter protest, killing five. In Baton Rouge, a man traveled to Louisiana with the intent of killing cops.
In both of those instances, the gunmen were veterans, had weapons training and were armed with assault-style rifles. Because of an apparent increase in the use of assault-style rifles against police, the report recommends that law enforcement agencies equip themselves with "AR-style patrol rifles, body armor with hard armor plates, and ballistic helmets, to be deployed during high threat responses." Standard, soft body armor worn by most patrol officers will not stop bullets from an AR-15 or similar gun.
Some major police agencies such as the NYPD have already invested in more heavy-duty gear, including a particular kind of ballistic helmet which apparently saved an officer's life during the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last month. In the wake of the shootings in Baton Rouge and Dallas, COPS Products and COPS Gun Shop — law enforcement outfitters in Oklahoma City‚ not related to the federal agency of the same acronym — reported a 50 percent spike in sales.
"I think it's just a reflection on society," the owner of the COPS Gun Shop told local broadcaster KFOR. "People are scared. People are outgunned. Citizens are scared."
While the perceived threat against officers has drawn a lot of attention in recent months, this decade has been unprecedented in terms of police safety. According to data from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), an average of 127 officers were fatally shot each year in the 1970's, compared to 53 in the 2010s.
But it looks like 2016 will be an outlier. The NLEOMF's midyear report found that firearm-related officer deaths had jumped a whopping 80 percent from the same period last year.