As the national murder rate continues to rise, police officers themselves are frequently getting caught in the crossfire.
According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, 73 officers were killed in the line of duty last year, which marked a 60% increase for 2021.
Police officer deaths are only part of the story and come against a backdrop of surging homicides overall. In 2020, there was a 29% increase in murders, which amounted to nearly 5,000 more killings compared to the previous year.
Wray blamed the murders on the pandemic and gun trafficking.
“We’re seeing more and more juveniles committing violent crime, and that’s certainly an issue. We’re seeing a certain amount of gun trafficking, interstate gun trafficking. That’s part of it. And we’re seeing an alarming frequency of some of the worst of the worst getting back out on the streets,” Wray said in a 60 Minutesinterview.
The FBI director said that in 2021, the rate of officer murders approached one officer killed every five days. Wray believes that officers are being specifically targeted in some cases.
“Some of it is tied to the violent crime problem as a whole. But one of the phenomena that we saw in the last year is that an alarming percentage of the 73 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty were killed through things like being ambushed or shot while out on patrol,” he said. “Wearing the badge shouldn’t make you a target,” Wray added.
According to data released by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in January, there were 103 ambush-style attacks on officers in 2021, which resulted in 130 officers getting shot and 30 officers killed.
FOP data for 2022 shows that through April 1, 17 officers have been shot and killed.
Wray spoke about how he lost two FBI agents this year. Officers Laura Schwartzenberger and Daniel Alfin were shot and killed while executing a search warrant in a child pornography case.
“I heard about Laura and Dan’s murders within really moments of it happening, from our Miami Field Office. I was on the phone with their spouses within a few hours, and in their living rooms the next morning. My reaction was a feeling of ache, almost sickness, inside — in my distress, you know, it’s the hardest thing I’ve encountered in this job,” Wray said.
Wray explained that the FBI is working with state and local law enforcement to combat violent crime by targeting specific hot spots across the country. Last year, 15,000 violent gang members were arrested.
“And part of what fuels us to pursue this mission is our deep conviction that law enforcement’s most sacred duty is to ensure that people can live free from fear in their own homes and neighborhoods,” Wray said.