iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The number of law enforcement officers killed in ambush-style attacks has increased dramatically this year, according to a report issued today by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a finding its spokesperson called “especially troubling.”
Sixty-seven law enforcement officers died in the line of duty this year as of July 20 — a small increase from 62 deaths in the same period last year, according to the report. But of this year’s 67 deaths, 32 were firearms-related — which is a 78 percent spike from last year, when 18 deaths were firearms-related.
And of this year’s 32 firearms-related deaths, almost half — 14 — were the result of eight ambush-style attacks against unsuspecting officers, according to the report. At this time last year there had been just three ambush deaths.
Forty-six officers were killed as a result of a criminal act so far this year, the report said — double last year’s number of 23. The criminal-related deaths this year were from shootings, traffic-related incidents, a beating, and an officer who died from illness contracted from 9/11 rescue and recovery work.
Texas has had the most officer fatalities with 13, followed by Louisiana with seven, in the wake of deadly, targeted attacks on officers in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this month.
In Baton Rouge, three officers were killed on July 17 by a gunman who “intentionally targeted and assassinated” cops, according to police. The attack followed the death of Alton Sterling, a black man who was shot and killed during an altercation with Baton Rouge police officers on July 5. Protesters took to the streets nationwide after video surfaced of the encounter, which was followed the next day by a video of the fatal police shooting of Philando Castile, another black man, in Minnesota.
The Baton Rouge attack was also 10 days after the killing of five officers in Dallas by a gunman who reportedly said he was angry at police.
In all of 2015, there were eight deadly ambushes, said Steve Groeninger, senior director of communications and marketing of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, and in all of 2014 there were 15.
“We’re halfway through the year and already at 14,” Groeninger said, calling the increase of ambushes “especially troubling.”
And while Groeninger said the mass ambushes in Dallas and Baton Rouge are “terribly relevant,” he added, “there have been other officer ambushes in the first half of the year.” One was 28-year-old police officer Ashley Guindon, who was shot dead while on her first shift after being sworn in at the Prince William County Police Department in Virginia in February.
Despite what Groeninger points out to be an alarming 78 percent firearms-related spike from last year, he said this isn’t the deadliest time ever for cops — another dangerous year was in 1973, when at the midway point of the year, 84 officers had been shot and killed.
But police throughout the country are certainly on edge today, and deadly danger for police extends beyond ambushes. While ambushes made up 14 of the 32 firearms-related deaths, other firearms deaths were by incidents including handling prisoners and stopping a suspicious person, the report noted.
Of the non-firearms-related deaths, 24 were traffic related and 11 were from other causes, the report said.
Terrence Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, told ABC News that officer safety in the current climate can very difficult to achieve. He said some departments are taking “steps to try to keep officers safe in this current environment,” like dual patrols. He said it’s also been suggested that officers not write reports in their cars in the open and not eat in restaurants, instead returning to their stations.
Cunningham called it “really unfortunate” that “in a time we need to connect most with the community,” these potential steps are “driving a wedge between the community and the police.”
“Those [community interactions] are the interactions we need right now, and unfortunately that’s being lost,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham also gave insight into the mindset of police officers. He said officers are often responding to “people’s worst day,” and while citizens may think they are the only call that officer is responding to, the officer is really going to “call after call after call.”
The tension is “palpable out there,” he said, “and this cumulative effect of stress and trauma on the officers … is something we have to deal with as a profession.”
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