Law Enforcement is a noble career in which men and women in uniform go out into our communities each and every day to ensure the safety of our families, our friends, and our communities. Police officers across America get up each morning ready to serve so that we may feel more secure. It is a rewarding job. It is a risky one. And in 2020, it was more dangerous than it had been in years.
Deadliest Year for Police
2020 was the year of George Floyd, massive civil unrest, and anti-police sentiment stoked by radical activists, politicians, and the media. But worst of all, 2020 was the year of the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic emergency. While organizations who track line of duty deaths each year have come up with different figures, 2020 was the deadliest year for Police in many years by far. And Covid-19 is largely to blame.
According to a report issued by the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, “as of December 31, 2020, 264 federal, state, military, tribal, and local law enforcement officers died in the line-of-duty in 2020.” This represents an increase of 96% over the 135 officers killed in the line of duty the year before. Of these tragic deaths, the organization links Covid-19 as the confirmed cause of death in 145 cases.
The Officer Down Memorial Page tracks similar numbers, but in their accounting 2020 resulted in even more Covid-19 related deaths than the numbers tracked by the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. According to the Officer Down count, 343 officers died in the line of duty in 2020, and 222 of them died of Covid-19.
Taking a closer look at the information presented by the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, Covid-19 related officer deaths tracked closely with the general impact Covid-19 had in each state. States that had the highest total death tolls related to Covid-19 also had the most police officers taken by the virus, independent of the individual response policies taken by each state’s government. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, and Florida all had the most Covid-19 related police officer deaths, there were 26 states who had none at all.
If we were to remove the tragic circumstances of the pandemic which has spared no segment of our society from destruction and human suffering, then the leading cause of death to police in 2020 would due to gun violence. Once again, the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund and the Officer Down Memorial both offer slightly different statistics, 48 killed versus 45 killed, respectively, but each figure represents a slight draw down from the 51 officers killed by gunfire in 2019.
However, it is important to note that this reduction in gun related police deaths do not tell the entire story. On December 30th, the National Fraternal Order of Police posted disturbing statistics on the dramatic rise of Police Officers shot and injured in the line of duty, with 311 officers shot overall in 2020 alone.
For President of the Fraternal Order, Patrick Yoes, the extreme civil unrest and anti-police activism experienced in the country are directly to blame: “The demonization of police has made communities and law enforcement jobs less safe. Violence targeting police officers is on the rise.” The number of police officers shot in 2020 represents a 7% increase from 2019’s numbers and a shocking 28% increase from 2018, Yoes noted.
Gravest Threats to Law Enforcement in 2020
While Covid-19 and gun violence were the two gravest threats to law enforcement in 2020, they were not the only ones, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial report. 44 officers were killed in “Traffic Related Fatalities,” which also represented an increase over 2019, where there were 43 such fatalities. Crashes with another vehicle was the leading subset of these fatalities, with 18 reported deaths, and the second leading cause within this grouping was “struck on side of road,” with 15 such deaths.
Finally, there were other minor contributors to 2020’s statistics. These include medical incidents such as heart attacks, of which Officer Down reported 6 such fatalities, in addition to 4 drownings, and 1 heatstroke. And sadly, the tragedy of 9/11 continues to play a role in police officer fatalities, with 7 September 11th related cancer deaths.
Being a police officer or law enforcement agent will forever be a dangerous job. But 2020 marked a disturbing shift in the number of officers being killed in this country.
While on one hand, we expect the Covid-19 pandemic to come under control, the ever-shifting goalposts for when that will happen, or when the government will be able to provide vaccines and emergency funding means that it may indeed continue to disproportionately take officers lives in the days ahead. But one day in the future, it will end.
What may not end anytime soon, is something we can control. The anti-law enforcement vitriol that has begun to grip the dialogue and politics of segments of the population will continue to be a cancer in America and a danger to officers as long as it goes unopposed. If we stand up and support our nation’s law enforcement and resist the movements aiming to dismantle them, the rise in violence against police is one factor we can bring under control and save lives in the process.
While normal work-related instances account for some officer deaths throughout the years, the sad fact remains that shooting and other violent deaths occur at a much higher rate involving police officers. Take a deeper look at the circumstances under which these tragic deaths occurred.