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U.S. Law Enforcement Deaths Climbed Sharply in 2021

2021 was a rough year for law enforcement in the United States. There was a 59 percent increase in the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty last year, reaching a total of 73 officers killed. According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, violence against police is a phenomenon that “doesn’t get enough attention.”

Some of the violence against law enforcement is tied to the overall rise in violent crime, Wray said in a “60 Minutes” interview. In 2020, there was a 29 percent rise in murder overall in the United States, with almost 5,000 more people killed than in 2019.

Speaking on the root causes, Wray added that “certainly the pandemic didn’t help.” Also, “we’re seeing more and more juveniles committing violent crime, and that’s certainly an issue. We’re seeing a certain amount of interstate gun trafficking. That’s part of it. And we’re seeing an alarming frequency of some of the worst of the worst getting back out on the streets.”

Authorities believe that an alarming percentage of the officers killed were targeted, Wray added. In January 2022, the Fraternal Order of Police said that there had been 103 “ambush-style attacks” on officers in 2021, resulting in 130 officers being shot and 30 killed, the BBC reported.

“Wearing the badge shouldn’t make you a target,” Wray said.

Gun violence wasn’t the primary threat to law enforcement last year, however. While 2021 was the deadliest for active-duty law enforcement for yearly a century, the primary cause of death was COVID-19.

The National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) reported that law enforcement fatalities were up 55 percent in 2021 over 2020, with 458 federal, state, county, municipal, military, campus, tribal, and territorial officers dying in the line of duty. More than 300 deaths were related to COVID-19 contracted in the line of duty.

“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,” according to the report. The number of deaths is likely to rise as more data is filed.

Traffic-related fatalities also increased—up 38 percent with 58 deaths in 2021 compared to 42 in 2020, the report said.

The U.S. states with the most law enforcement deaths were Texas (84 fatalities), Florida (52), Georgia (39), California (24), North Carolina (21), and Tennessee (18).  

Mass violence continues to be a major concern in the United States this year, and as of 1 April, 17 law enforcement officers have been shot and killed so far in 2022, according to the Fraternal Order of Police.