Many of us are wondering what the main cause is for this year’s increase in police officer deaths. Recent years have been among the deadliest for police officers, and the trend only seems to be worsening. After yet another loss for the law enforcement community — veteran Officer Gordon Beesley of the Arvada Police Department was shot and killed on June 21 — it’s definitely time to look closer at what’s happening.
Police officer deaths in 2021 so far
This year’s rate for on-the-job police officer deaths is indeed higher compared to the same time last year, with the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund citing an 11% increase over last year. As of June 25, there have been 152 law enforcement casualties this year across federal, state, local, military and tribal law enforcement agencies.
The stats suggest that the main reason for this year’s increase seems to be due to traffic-related fatal incidents. In 2021, 36 officers have died due to traffic-related causes, compared with 25 at the same time the previous year.
Traffic-related deaths are defined as when someone dies on the road. Police officer deaths due to collisions with other vehicles, single-vehicle crashes, motorcycle crashes and incidents in which officers are struck by vehicles all count as traffic-related deaths.
The general public hasn’t been spared from this morbid fact either. U.S. traffic deaths rose by 7% last year, despite less people on the roads during the pandemic.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traffic poses the biggest threat to officers more than any other.
From 2006 to 2019, more than 800 officers died as a result of traffic incidents, which constitutes 43% of all line-of-duty deaths. The CDC says that by promoting motor vehicle safety among officers, they can do their job of protecting the community safely and with lower risks.
Another cause behind the reported increase in officer deaths is chalked up to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an NPR report, coronavirus infections were the leading cause of death for police officers last year. Data from the memorial fund shows that in 2020, 295 officers in total died, with 182 dying from COVID-19.
The memorial fund also marks “other causes,” such as medical emergencies like heart attacks or strokes at work, for resulting in the death of 88 police officers so far this year.
From 2010 to 2019, the leading cause of officer deaths was reportedly due to fatal shootings. During that decade, 528 officers were shot and killed.
Furthermore, 2020 was the deadliest year on record since 1930, which saw 312 officers killed.
According to the FBI, the rise of gangs following Prohibition in 1920 was a major factor at play. Law enforcement agencies were “outgunned” and unable to deal effectively with massive gang and mafia operations at that time.