Remember the fallen: Human tragedies behind the numbers
Looking back on law enforcement officer safety during 2012 reveals some encouraging news
By Craig Floyd
Excecutive Director with National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund
According to preliminary data (as of December 20, 2012) from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 124 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty nationwide in 2012 — a 20 percent decrease from this time last year. This comes after a two-year spike in officer fatalities.
Traffic-related incidents have declined 14 percent thus far in 2012.
However, with 50 law enforcement officer fatalities to date (compared to 58 at same point in 2011), traffic-related incidents are currently the leading cause of death among officers in 2012.
This data is highlighted by the fact that motor vehicle crashes account for 35 percent of all officer fatalities that occurred during the last decade. Additionally, traffic-related incidents have been the leading cause of officer fatalities 14 out of the last 15 years.
At the same time, it’s important to note that since the 1970s, the total number of officer fatalities has steadily declined. The nation averaged about 230 officer deaths each year in the 1970s, compared to about 156 over the last 10 years.
It is encouraging that total fatalities have decreased while at the same time the number of officers currently serving has more than doubled, from around 400,000 in 1970 to some 800,000 today. But there is still much room for improvement.
One troubling area is the number of officers killed by drunk drivers. Over the last four decades, this number has increased by 43 percent (99 in 2000s versus 69 in 1970s).
This increase has occurred while drunk driving deaths in the U.S. have declined 44 percent since 1980 when MADD was formed and more emphasis was placed on getting drunk and impaired drivers off our roads.
On May 28, 2012, Englewood (Colo.) Police Detective Jeremy Bitner was conducting a traffic stop when a vehicle driven by a suspected drunk driver veered into the lane and fatally struck the 39-year-old peace officer.
Detective Bitner, an eight-year law enforcement veteran, husband, and father of two, was transported to a hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.
“It's a difficult time for a department of 70 or 700,” Englewood Police Chief John Collins stated.
“We always liken ourselves to being in a family. We're a family who serves our city. And anytime we lose a member of our family, especially in this situation, it's nothing less than heartbreaking,"
In 2011, firearms-related fatalities outnumbered traffic-related fatalities for the first time in 14 years. After a startling two-year spike in 2010 and 2011, firearms-related fatalities declined 31 percent with 45 firearms-related fatalities thus far in 2012 compared to 65 in the same period in 2011.
One such incident occurred on Thursday, April 12, 2012.
Just days from retirement, 48-year-old Greenland (NH) Police Chief Michael Maloney joined fellow law enforcement officers from neighboring departments to serve a drug-related search warrant at a local residence. As the task force entered the house, the suspect opened fire on the officers, killing Chief Maloney and injuring four other officers.
The shooting shocked and devastated Greenland, a town of 3,500 near the seacoast with just seven police officers, including Chief Maloney, who had served as the department’s chief for the last 12 years. As family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and community members gathered to honor Chief Maloney, they recalled that he was a dedicated public servant, loving father of two grown children and grandfather to one — the “apple of his eye,” family members said.
According to those who knew him best, Chief Maloney’s dream had always been to become a police officer. And as chief of the small-town force, he was often the first to respond to a call for help.
Sadly Chief Maloney’s story is typical of many other law enforcement officers who have served tirelessly and selflessly before making the ultimate sacrifice.
These are among the many findings of the preliminary report on law enforcement officer fatalities for 2012 released on Thursday, December 27, by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The Memorial Fund tracks these statistical trends so that law enforcement executives and officers, as well as trainers, policymakers and the public can better understand officer safety issues and better address the dangers that confront these brave men and women.
But while the statistical data are important, we must never lose sight of the human tragedy behind the numbers — the family members who have lost a loved one, the officers who have lost a partner, and the communities that have lost a protector.
These survivors will always be in our thoughts and prayers, and our fallen heroes will always be remembered at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is a nonprofit organization established in 1984 to generate increased public support for the law enforcement profession by permanently recording and appropriately commemorating the service and sacrifice of all federal, state and local law enforcement officers; and to provide information that will help promote law enforcement safety.
The NLEOMF built and now operates the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., which contains the names of more than 16,000 officers killed in the line of duty; helps organize the annual National Police Week tribute to fallen law enforcement officers each May; runs an Officer of the Month Program; serves as a clearinghouse of information about police officers killed in the line of duty; and will open the doors to the National Law Enforcement Museum in 2008.