WASHINGTON- Seventy police officers died in the line of duty in the first half of 2005, down more than 11 percent from last year, law enforcement groups reported Wednesday.
The decline was attributed in part to increased use of bullet-resistant vests, which have helped bring fatal police shootings down 36 percent over the past three decades, said the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and the Concerns of Police Survivors.
Over that same period, however, the number of federal, state and local officers killed in auto accidents jumped 40 percent, prompting calls for improved driver training and safer cars and restraint systems.
Of officers reported killed this year, 32 were shot and 17 died in automobile crashes. Ten died of job-related illnesses and the rest were killed by assaults or in accidents.
The groups also urged greater use of bullet-resistant vests, while expressing concern that recent news reports of defective gear might dissuade officers from protecting themselves. A Japanese manufacturer, Toyobo Co., announced Wednesday it is paying $29 million to settle class-action suits over vests suspected of defects.
"We don't want law enforcement officers to read about one problem with one company and to say, 'Well, the armor is not that effective anymore and I'm not going to use it,'" said memorial fund spokesman Chris Beakey, adding that some officers have also complained the vests can be heavy and uncomfortable, especially on a hot day.
"We want to make sure they use it no matter what," Beakey said.