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FBI data: Assaults on cops up in 2020, mostly due to civil unrest

Assaults during civil disorder incidents were up 400% compared to 2019


John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/TNS

By Josh Cain
Daily News, Los Angeles

WASHINGTON — The number of assaults on police officers in the United States appeared to go up last year, according to recently released FBI data; but nearly half of that increase came from officers facing off with protesters during 2020’s historic civil rights protests.

However, data reflecting the rise also seemed to be, at best, incomplete: Hundreds fewer law enforcement agencies reported this data in 2019 than in 2020.

Regardless, last year 2,444 assaults on officers occurred during incidents described as civil disorder, according to the FBI’s report on law enforcement killings and assaults. In 2019, that number was just 488, a 400% increase.

That rise would account for nearly half of the reported increase of 4,071 assaults on officers last year. Total assaults numbered 60,105, the first time since 2017 that assaults on officers rose above 60,000.

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Even with those numbers, however, the actual rate of assaults on officers barely budged, from 11.8 assaults per 100 officers in 2019 to 11.9 in 2020.

Even fewer of those assaults actually resulted in injuries — the rate was just 3.7 assaults resulting in injury per 100 officers in 2020, up from 3.6 the year before.

Both of those rates are far below the historical rate of assaults on officers in the U.S. Previous FBI reports show rates of greater than 13 assaults per 100 officers in the mid 1990s, and greater than 16 assaults per 100 officers in the 1980s.

The slight increase in the assault rate occurred despite massive demonstrations and violent encounters between riot police and protesters across the country in Spring 2020, when millions of Americans marched in the streets for about two weeks following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Historically, the FBI’s program for reporting crime data from across the U.S. has been criticized as lacking completeness and for failing in some cases to match up with crime numbers reported locally.

Local police agencies are not required to report their crime numbers to the FBI. And the wild changes in the number of participating agencies make year-to-year comparisons difficult: In 2017, 12,198 law enforcement agencies sent the FBI their data on assaults against their officers. In 2020, that number was just 9,895.

An FBI spokeswoman said the agency could not comment on the report Monday. She did not answer a list of questions about the changing numbers of law enforcement agencies reporting their data, and whether that would affect the results of the final report, by press time.

It’s not clear locally what the picture was for assaults on officers. The Los Angeles Police Department said numbers for assaults on its officers in 2020 were not available Monday.

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