WASHINGTON (AP) — Far fewer U.S. police officers died while on the job in 2022 than a year earlier, due mostly to a drop in COVID-19 deaths, though the number killed by gunfire remained relatively high, according to a report released Wednesday.
Sixty-four of the 226 officers who died in the line of duty last year were fatally shot, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund said. That matched the death-by-gunfire tally from 2021, with the shooting death figures from both years reflecting an increase in the average annual fatality toll over the past decade and an indication of a disturbing trend, said Bill Alexander, executive director of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington.
“We really do have some concerns about these numbers specific to firearms fatalities,” Alexander said. From 2010 to 2020, by comparison, 53 officers on average were killed by gunfire each year.
The country has seen an overall rise in violent crime in recent years, especially from gun violence. The exact causes are hard to pinpoint, but experts say potential factors include the pandemic, which has killed more than 1 million people in the U.S., as well as civil unrest and fears about the economy.
The overall number of police deaths dropped in 2022 by 61% from an all-time high of 586 a year earlier, as reduced coronavirus infection rates and widespread availability of vaccines meant fewer officers died from COVID.
The organization tallies COVID-19 deaths from officers infected with the virus in the line of duty. The virus remained the No. 1 killer of police last year.
There was also an increase in fatalities related to vehicle crashes. Forty officers died in traffic crashes last year, an increase of nearly 30% from 2021.
Texas had the overall largest number of deaths in the line of duty with 33, followed by New York with 12. California and Georgia each had 11.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is a private nonprofit in Washington that built and maintains the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial monument, as well as a database of officer deaths dating to 1786. The data in its yearend reports come from federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies.
Lindsay Whitehurst, The Associated Press