Law Enforcement Officer Deaths Increased 55% in 2021

Published: January 13, 2022

Last year saw the highest number of active-duty officer deaths in nearly a century, with COVID-19 identified as the leading cause of death for the second year in a row.

A preliminary report, released by the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum (NLEOMF), determined 458 federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers died in 2021 — a 55% increase from 295 officers in 2020 and the highest total number since 1930.

In 2021, 301 officer fatalities are said to be caused by COVID, up 65% from 182 officers in 2020.

“It has been reported to NLEOMF that these officers have died due to direct exposure to the virus during the commission of their official duties,” reads the report. “Law enforcement officers nationwide continue to be exposed to the Covid-19 virus in the course of their daily assignments; therefore, the number of line-of-duty deaths is sadly ever-increasing.”

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Although law enforcement officers are exposed to COVID more often than most other professions, there has been pushback from many departments on vaccine mandates. This has caused a contention among many, including some elected officials who argue police have a higher responsibility to get vaccinated since they regularly interact with the public and could unknowingly spread the virus.

Some cities have released figures showing police department employees have been vaccinated at lower rates than most other government workers, and at lower rates than the general public, the New York Times reports.

Officer Deaths Caused by Firearms, Traffic Incidents Also Increased

Firearms were the second-leading cause of death with 62 officers killed feloniously by firearms in 2021, a 36% increase from the previous year. The leading circumstance of firearms fatalities were officers killed in ambush attacks, which accounts for 19 deaths — up from six in 2020 (see Slide 1 for further breakdown).

(Photo Source: 2021 End-of-Year Preliminary Law Enforcement Officers Fatalities Report, National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum)

The report also shows a significant increase (36%) in the number of officers who died in traffic-related fatalities, with 58 officers killed as a result of incidents like vehicle or motorcycle crashes.

Eleven of those officers were killed in “struck-by” incidents, many of which occurred while they were investigating vehicle crashes or helping motorists on the side of the road, representing a staggering 93% increase. Furthermore, three were killed in auto crashes where the subject was either fleeing the police or an intoxicated driver was involved (see Slide 2 for more details).

Four officers were also beaten to death, three were stabbed to death, four drowned, and two died from 9/11-related illnesses (more details in Slide 3).

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