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Cops in the U.S. just had their second-safest year since 1959

A 10 percent drop in fatalities from 2016 continues a positive trend

by Tess Owen
Dec 28 2017, 3:15pm

Being a police officer has become a much safer job in America, according to new numbers released Thursday by the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. There were 128 law enforcement fatalities in 2017, a 10 percent drop, marking the second-safest year for law enforcement since 1959. The safest year was 2013, which saw 116 line-of-duty fatalities.

Being a cop is, statistically speaking, still a dangerous job — but not the most dangerous. The most dangerous profession, according to Bureau of Labor statistics, is logging, followed by fishing, and then aircraft piloting and engineering.

But numbers have been stable and trending lower overall for the past decade. One blip in the trend came in 2016, when a handful of violent and deadly ambushes on law enforcement led to an increase in fatalities from the previous year, up to 143 from 137 in 2015 (and a significant increase in firearm-related deaths).

Michael Hopper

That increase was cast by some lawmakers as evidence officers' jobs were getting more dangerous. Pro-police groups and unions blamed the Obama administration, saying that its increased scrutiny of policing and its willingness to listen to the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement had put officers in danger.

It also gave presidential candidate Donald Trump a powerful talking point on the stump that he has revisited frequently in his first year in office. “Our police have been subject to unfair defamation and vilification and — really, you see what’s going on — even worse, hostility and violence,” Trump said at the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service in May. “We will protect you.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, meanwhile, has rolled back many of the key police reforms that began under Obama, such as ordering a review of federal agreements designed to reform troubled police departments and restoring asset forfeiture, a controversial practice that his predecessor tried to phase out.

The “Blue Lives Matter” movement began developing steam in 2016, as a counterpoint to “Black Lives Matter.” In 2017, that pro-police sentiment materialized into a flurry of “Blue Lives Matter” bills in state legislatures. Lawmakers in 14 states introduced a total of 32 bills this year, seeking to ramp up penalties for people who hurt police officers.

Here are some of the main findings from 2017:

  • Traffic related incidents was the leading cause of line-of-duty fatalities. Forty-seven officers were killed in traffic incidents, down from 54 in 2016.
  • The second-leading cause of officer deaths was firearm-related incidents. Forty-four officers were shot and killed in 2017 — compared to 66 officers in 2016.
  • Officers were most likely to be fatally shot when responding to a domestic disturbance.
  • Texas accounted for the most line-of-duty deaths by far (there were 14 officer deaths in the lone star state) — despite having the fourth largest police force in the country.
  • Five officers died from drowning. Three of those deaths were directly linked to the devastating hurricanes that wreaked havoc across the United States, including Puerto Rico.

According to a Washington Post tracker, 971 people were killed by police in 2017 so far, compared to 963 in 2016 and 995 in 2015.