Traffic-Related Fatalities, Shootings of Police Officers Rise: Report

Number of total deaths rise in first half of year, with California leading

Traffic and firearms-related deaths of on-duty police officers are up for the first time in three years, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Sixty-seven law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the first half of 2014, 16 more than in the same period last year, according to the report. Twenty-six deaths were traffic-related, 25 were firearms-related.

Four officers were killed on duty in Virginia, including Deputy Sheriff Bryan Berger of Spotsylvania County. A recruit at the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy, Berger was participating in fitness training in April when he collapsed and died.

Norfolk Police Officer Brian Jones was shot in May while responding to reports of a man firing at random from behind the wheel of his Jeep as he drove through Norfolk. That gunman was also killed -- as was a teen driving home from his school's graduation festivities.

Percy Lee House III, a sheriff's deputy from Emporia, Virginia, was killed when his patrol car apparently slipped off an icy road and plunged into a creek in January. And State Police Sgt. J. Michael Phillippi died in January in an early-morning crash of his patrol car. Phillippi was a 42 year veteran of the state police.

No officers died on the job during that time in Maryland or the District of Columbia. Eight officers were killed in California, more than in any other state.

The total number of officers killed, though up 31 percent over last year, is less than half what it was during the first half of 1974, when 140 officers died.

“The number of fatalities nationwide for the entire year of 2013 was 100 — the lowest number since 1944,” said Craig W. Floyd, the chairman and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. “So what we're seeing this year is a spike certainly but still we’re seeing numbers that are somewhat encouraging when you compare it to decades past.”

Of the officers whose deaths were traffic-related, 17 died in car crashes, six were struck and killed outside their vehicles and three died in motorcycle crashes. Nineteen traffic-related deaths were reported in the same period last year and in 2012.

The number of traffic-related deaths has increased since the 1960s even as the number of deaths overall has decreased, the report notes.

Floyd said police officers need more driver training and better safety equipment in their cars. Most officers now receive about double the amount of firearms training as driver training, he said.

“And yet fewer than 10 percent of the officers serving today will ever fire their weapon in the line of duty,” he said. “Every officer at some point is going to be behind the wheel of their vehicle responding to an emergency call, chasing a fleeing felon, doing something that is dangerous when you’re a driver and you’re a law enforcement officer.”

As for the officers who were shot and killed, the number rose to 25, compared to 16 in 2013 and 19 in 2012, the report says. Most were killed by handguns, then by shotgun and rifle, and most died while investigating suspicious people or situations, the report says.

“The sharp rise in officers killed by gunfire — many in ambush-style attacks — as well as a significant increase in fatal on-duty heart attacks reminds us that much more work needs to be done to improve officer safety and wellness,” Floyd said in a statement.

Sixteen officers died from other causes, including 13 from job-related illnesses such as heart attacks. That is up from eight illness-related deaths last year.

In the breakdown by state, California was followed by Florida, New York, Texas and Virginia, which all saw four officers die. Fifteen other states had one officer killed; 21 states and the District of Columbia had none.

In addition, four federal officers, three territorial officers and a military officer were killed nationwide.

Most of those killed were municipal officers.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is a non-profit dedicated to improving safety for law enforcement officers.

Jon Sonnheim of NBC Owned Television Stations contributed to this report.

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