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Law Enforcement Deaths Are at a Record Low

• December 31, 2013 • 12:00 PM

(Photo: Fotokostic/Shutterstock)

Authorities credit seat belts and bullet-proof vests.

A nationwide manhunt kicked off last week for the bank-robber who shot two cops during his getaway from a heist in Tupelo, Mississipi. One of the officers who was shot was critically injured; the other, a 38-year-old Iraq war vet, died from his wounds. While on the lam, authorities say, the accused stuck up another bank and an ATM in Atlanta, and then landed days later in Phoenix, Arizona. That’s where Mario Edward Garnett met his end, in yet another shootout in another bank robbery. This time, though, the robber was killed, and the cops walked away.

Everyone knows law enforcement is a dangerous line of work. It’s stories like these that remind us of the risks that cops, sheriffs, and feds face so selflessly, every day. But the fatalities that law enforcement suffer aren’t always the result of such dramatic and newsworthy confrontations—often, they’re car accidents, falls, or illness. Because of that, simple safety measures can help, and are helping, authorities to reduce those risks. In fact, according the non-profit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the total number of law enforcement deaths in 2013 was the lowest it’s been in decades.

“More than 30% of the officers killed in the line of duty over the past two years were not wearing their body armor.”

The NLEOMF reported that, after a brief spike in 2011 and 2012, this past year’s total of 111 officers killed in the line of duty overall is the lowest since 1959. The Associated Press noted that the number of deaths from firearms is the lowest it’s been since 1887. The number one cause of death for law enforcement this year wasn’t shoot-outs; it was actually “traffic-related incidents.” That category includes car accidents, motorcycle accidents, and being hit outside their vehicles—while standing by the road during a traffic stop, for instance.

The organization’s chairman and CEO, Craig Floyd, told The Guardian that requiring simple safety measures has helped reduce deaths on duty. Many departments are cracking down on high-speed car chases except when absolutely necessary, for instance, he said. Enforcing the use of bullet-proof vests and seat belts is another effective fix.

“More than 30% of the officers killed in the line of duty over the past two years were not wearing their body armor,” said Floyd. “Forty-two percent of the officers killed in auto crashes the last couple of years were not wearing their seatbelts.”

Overall officer health is also just as important; the report found that 14 officers died this year from heart attacks that occurred on the job. Of course, simple health and safety precautions aside, the very nature of law enforcement carries with it any number of sudden and unpreventable risks. One excerpt from the report’s findings highlights the range of dangers that have felled officers in the line of duty in the past year:

Of the 32 officers who died due to other causes, 18 were caused by job-related illnesses; six officers fell to their death or died as a result of an injury sustained in a fall, two officers drowned while attempting to assist victims during a flash flood, two officers were stabbed to death, one officer was killed in a helicopter crash, one officer was killed in a boat related accident, one officer was killed by an explosive device and an officer was electrocuted.

Here’s to hoping 2014 breaks a new, even lower record.

Lauren Kirchner
Lauren Kirchner is the Web editor of The Baffler. She has written for the Columbia Journalism Review, Capital New York, Slate, The Awl, The Hairpin, and many others. Follow her on Twitter @lkirchner.

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