"This should be a wake-up call for the whole country."
By Kevin Johnson USA TODAY
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A surge in fatal shootings has contributed to a dramatic increase in deaths of law enforcement officers during the first six months of this year, the highest midyear body count in nearly three decades, according to a report due out today.
The annual count by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found that 39 officers were killed in shootings, up from 27 during the first six months of last year.
The abrupt midyear increase comes less than a year after the organization reported that 145 officers were killed in the line of duty in all of 2006, the lowest annual number in eight years. That year, fatal shootings dropped to 52, from 59 in 2005.
"These are the most alarming increases in officer fatalities I've ever seen for a midyear period," said Craig Floyd, the memorial fund's chairman and chief executive officer. "It's somewhat shocking. Is there something at work that nobody has gotten their arms around?" he said.
The count, viewed as one of the most reliable sources of law enforcement deaths in the country, shows traffic-related fatalities remained the primary cause of officer deaths. That number was up 36% so far this year. The traffic deaths included six officers who were struck while outside their vehicles, according to the report. In all, 101 officers have been killed in the line of duty from January through June.
Floyd and other law enforcement analysts said that recent spikes in violent crime across the country may be a factor in the rising shooting deaths this year.
"This is very consistent with the increasing crime in many American cities," said Joseph Carter, president of the Inter-national Association of Chiefs of Police. "This should be a wake-up call for the whole country."
Texas reported the highest number of overall officer deaths with 13. North Carolina was next with eight. Among them: two Charlotte-Mecklenburg officers fatally shot this year.
"There certainly could be a relationship to the increases in violent crime," Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Darrel Stephens said. "A lot of communities are seeing more robberies and aggravated assaults involving guns."
Stephens, who also serves as president of the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association, said officers Sean Clark and Jeff Shelton were killed in a conflict with a suspect after the officers had responded to a separate domestic disturbance call.
"Clearly, if you have more violent crime, there is a greater threat against law enforcement. One naturally follows the other," said Floyd, who called on local police agencies to provide additional resources, including upgraded weaponry and body armor.
This year, law enforcement authorities across the nation said they were arming their officers with high-powered weapons in response to the increasing presence of military-style weapons on the street.
In Moncks Corner, S.C., where two officers were gunned down in March, police Capt. Mark Murray said: "People don't have a respect for life anymore."