Analyzing Law Enforcement Deaths: What’s Missing from These Statistics?

In the past decade, 1,553 law enforcement officers died in reported duty deaths. That is an average of one duty death every 58 hours or an average of 150 duty deaths per year.

How can departments analyze this data to help them determine and implement strategies to attempt to reduce the number of duty deaths?

First of all, it’s difficult to get a comprehensive picture of duty deaths because each reporting agency categorizes them differently. The data below came from several sources in order to analyze law enforcement duty deaths over the past decade.

Law Enforcement Deaths 2004 – 2014 (to date)

Aircraft Accidents: 25
Auto Accidents (Cruiser): 448
Assault: 9
Bicycle Accidents: 3
Boating Accidents: 3
Bomb-Related Incidents: 6
Drowned: 21
Electrocuted: 4
Fall: 23
Horse Related Incidents: 1
Law Enforcement Related Illness: 192
Motorcycle Crashes: 72
Poisoned: 1
Shot (all types of firearms): 568
Stabbed: 14
Strangled: 1
Struck by Falling Object: 4
Struck by Train: 4
Struck by Vehicle: 145
Terrorist Attack: 10

Female Law Enforcement Killed: 78
Officers Killed While Wearing Body Armor: 906
Alcohol & Drug Related (Suspects): 272

There are some interesting statistics on when duty deaths tend to occur. For example, in the past decade, more incidents that resulted in felonious fatalities occurred on a Thursday. However, the fewest number of felonious incidents occurred on Tuesdays.

Historical statistics show that New York City has the most duty deaths than any other department, with 698. The State of Texas has lost more officers than any other state with 1,678 deaths. On the other end of the spectrum, Vermont is the state with the fewest deaths, with 22 officers killed.

However, these statistics remain incomplete because they ignore the leading cause of police deaths: suicide.

Law Enforcement Suicide

One statistical category that is absent from reporting agencies is law enforcement suicides. The lack of credibility and validity with reporting law enforcement suicides makes it difficult to understand the gravity of the problem. However, if we take a snapshot from 2008 through 2012 on reported suicides, the average is 135 law enforcement suicides a year. This would place the number of law enforcement suicides for the past decade at approximately 1,350 officers.

These numbers are alarming, and to study the problem takes the courage to accurately report and categorize any law enforcement death. An officer who is suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or another mental-health diagnosis that leads to the officer taking his/her own life, needs to be studied so proactive intervention and treatment strategies can be developed to try to prevent this tragedy from occurring. Misclassifying these incidents casts inaccuracy on the actual duty death numbers in law enforcement.

I believe it is a disservice to the profession to ignore the deaths of these officers by not including them in any meaningful analysis. Timely and accurate reporting on law enforcement suicides needs to be established. It is time to add two additional categories:

  • On-Duty Suicide
  • Off-Duty Suicide

Taking care of the fallen and learning lessons from their deaths makes the profession stronger.

If you are concerned about a fellow officer, please take a moment to read Silent Suffering: Warning Signs and Steps to Prevent Police Suicide to learn more about ways to identify and prevent suicide. Remember, preventing police suicide is every officer’s responsibility.

About the Author

Mark Bond

Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms instructor for more than 33 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in criminal justice, and M.Ed in educational leadership with Summa Cum Laude honors. Mark has a doctoral degree in education (EdD) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.