The number of law enforcement officers shot and killed in the line of duty increased sharply in 2016 relative to 2015, according to a preliminary report from The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The overall number of officer fatalities rose by 10 percent, remaining lower than the average for the previous ten years.
But the NLEOMF found that 64 officers were killed in firearm-related incidents in 2016 — a 56 percent increase over 2015, when 41 officers were killed. It's the highest number of firearms-related deaths recorded since 2011, when the tally was 73.
Those shooting deaths included 21 deaths in ambush-style shootings, "the highest total in more than two decades," NLEOMF said in a statement.
The rise was partly fueled by a few high-profile shootings that took the lives of multiple officers, NLEOMF notes:
"Eight multiple-shooting death incidents claimed the lives of 20 officers in 2016, tied with 1971 for the highest total of any year since 1932. Those incidents included five officers killed in ambush attacks in Dallas (TX) and three in Baton Rouge (LA) spanning 10 days in July."
Overall, including traffic fatalities and other causes, 135 police officers died in the line of duty in 2016, NLEOMF says. That's 10 percent more than died last year, and the largest tally since 2011, when 177 officers died — 73 of them in firearms-related incidents.
That's still lower than the average of the previous ten years, when total fatalities averaged just under 144 deaths per year. And it's far lower than in decades past. According to NLEOMF data, in the 1970s, an average of 231 officers died each year. In the '80s, the number who died each year never dipped below 175.
Still, the rise in shooting fatalities in 2016 — and especially the increase in ambush killings targeting law enforcement officers — has police officers on edge, The Associated Press reports:
" 'We've never seen a year in my memory when we've had an increase of this magnitude in officer shooting deaths,' said Craig Floyd, president and chief executive of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. 'These officers were killed simply because of the uniform they wear and the job they do. This is unacceptable to the humane society that we are.' ...
"Floyd said the impact of this year has been profound on law enforcement. Agencies are struggling to recruit officers to their ranks and those who continue to serve 'talk about how their head is now on a swivel.'
" 'They're always looking over their shoulder, always worrying about the next attack that could come at any time from any direction,' Floyd said."
As we noted last year, national figures on the number of Americans shot and killed by police aren't compiled by any government agency.
But some media outlets and independent organizations attempt to track the number of people killed by law enforcement officers.
According to The Washington Post, 955 people have been shot and killed by police so far in 2016.