By Tiffany Thai
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – In 2021, the leading cause of death among the line-of-duty officers can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 was responsible for 301 of 458 line-of-duty officer-related deaths in 2021, or 66 percent of the total number of deaths, according to a preliminary report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).
The NLEOMF reported 2021 had the highest total line of duty officer deaths since 1930, when 312 officers died. The death toll of 458 officers included those from federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement died this year.
The second leading cause for law enforcement line-of-duty deaths in 2021 is firearm-related fatalities, with 62 firearm-related fatalities.
Of those 62 deaths, the primary type of event that took officers’ lives was ambush, responsible for 19 of the 62 deaths. Additionally, handguns were the leading type of firearms used in these deaths, used in 32 of the 62 cases.
The third leading cause of death for law enforcement in the line of duty was traffic-related fatalities. In 2021, there were 58 officers in traffic-related incidents compared to 42 in 2020, a 38 percent increase.
Among these deaths, 19 deaths were automobile crashes, nine were single-vehicle crashes, and three officers were killed in motorcycle crashes. The leading traffic-related deaths were 27 struck-by-vehicle deaths where officers had been struck outside their patrol vehicles.
Struck-by-vehicle deaths are concerning because officers usually try to provide safety by being on the road. For example, officers may be investigating crashes on the side of the road or assisting other vehicles. Struck-by-vehicle law enforcement deaths nearly doubled from 2020, with only 14 related cases.
Although 2022 has just started, there are no signs the COVID-19 pandemic will be ending soon, said the NLEOMF, noting law enforcement officers are continually potentially exposed to COVID-19 in their work as it is a potential point of infection.
Additionally, there have been 37 non-COVID-related deaths. The reasons include 25 physical-related deaths, four drownings, four deaths resulting from being beaten, two stabbings, one death due to a flood, and one death from a tornado.
The NLEOMF provides demographics on the officers who died in the line of duty. Among the deaths were 417 officers identifying as men and 41 identifying as females. The average age of an officer who had died was 48, with about 17 years on duty. Many of these officers, on average, had two children.