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2021 was deadliest year ever for law enforcement, report says

Line of duty deaths increased 55% in 2021 with COVID-19 as the leading cause of death, according to a report

funeral Mesquite police officer Richard Houston II

Elias Valverde II/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool

By Police1 Staff

WASHINGTON – Line of duty deaths increased 55% in 2021 from 2020 among law enforcement officers nationwide, according to the 2021 Law Enforcement Officers Fatalities Report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).

A total of 458 officers died in 2021, according to the preliminary data. That number includes officers at the federal, state, local, military, tribal and territorial levels. The leading cause of death, COVID-19, was responsible for 301 line of duty deaths.

The largest category of death was “other” at 338 deaths – a 63% increase in that category from last year. The “other” category includes COVID-19 deaths. Officers in that category also died from health-related incidents, natural disasters and non-firearm-related violence.

The second and third largest categories for duty deaths were firearms- and traffic-related fatalities. Below are some notable statistics from the NLEOMF report.

Firearms-Related Fatalities

Firearms-related incidents killed 62 officers in 2021, a 38% increase from the 45 officers killed in firearms-related incidents in 2020, the report says. Of the 62 firearms fatalities:

  • 19 were ambushed and killed

  • 8 were investigating suspicious activities or persons

  • 7 were attempting an arrest

  • 7 were killed responding to domestic disturbance calls, which led to a tactical situation and an ambush

  • 7 were disturbance calls, which led to a tactical situation

  • 3 were killed during traffic enforcement, which led to an ambush

  • 3 were fatally shot responding to burglary or robbery in-progress calls

  • 3 involved drug-related investigations

  • 2 were killed during tactical encounters

  • 2 were inadvertently and accidentally shot and killed

  • 1 was killed during an encounter with a suicidal subject

Traffic-Related Fatalities

Traffic-related fatalities increased 38% with 58 deaths in 2021 from 42 deaths in 2020, according to the report Of the 58 traffic-related deaths:

  • 19 were automobile crashes involving a collision with another vehicle or fixed object

  •  9 were single-vehicle crashes

  • 27 were struck-by fatalities

  • 3 officers have been killed in motorcycle crashes

The state with the highest number of duty deaths was Texas at 84 deaths. Florida had the second-highest at 52 officer deaths, and Georgia was third with 39 deaths.

Prior to 2021, the deadliest year on record for law enforcement was 1930 when 312 officers were killed in the line of duty, according to the report.

“This time of year always reminds us of the sacrifice of law enforcement and the importance of our mission to honor the fallen, tell the story of American law enforcement, and make it safer for those who serve,” said NLEOMF CEO Marcia Ferranto in a statement.

On Tuesday, Ferranto and Troy Anderson, executive director of officer safety and wellness, addressed the public about the report’s findings. Watch their address below:

Read the full 2021 Law Enforcement Officers Fatalities Report below or download it here.