Police fatalities on rise in ‘staggering’ trend; deaths by firearms soar
It’s been a violent year for the nation’s law enforcement.
Through mid-November, total fatalities were up by 30 percent over 2006, with deaths by gunshots up by 39 percent, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C.
“These are staggering numbers,” said Craig Floyd, the group’s chief executive officer and chairman. “We haven’t seen numbers this high when it comes to fatalities in nearly 30 years.”
The trend matches FBI statistics that show violent crime is also starting to rise after declining for 15 years.
In 2006, 44 officers were killed by gunfire, with 64 fatally shot al- ready this year.
“What makes it particularly disturbing is we’ve made such great strides in the last three decades in preventing firearms deaths among officers,” he said. “The statistics are alarming to say the least.”
Texas leads the nation in law-enforcement officer deaths with 22. Of those, 10 officers were fatally shot. Florida was second with 13 officers who have died so far in 2007.
Particularly hard-hit has been law enforcement in South Florida, with Broward County suffering three police shootings in four months.
On Nov. 7, Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Rein, 76, was fatally shot after he was ambushed while transporting a prisoner, who was serving two life terms for armed robbery, to court. The felon, Michael Mazza, tossed Deputy Rein’s body from the van and sped away. Deputy Rein died later at a hospital. Mazza was apprehended about four hours later at a pawnshop.
Broward Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Reyka was fatally shot in Pompano Beach on Aug. 10, and Broward Deputy Maury Hernandez was shot in the head and nearly killed at a traffic stop Aug. 6.
Officer Jose Somohano of the Miami-Dade Police Department died in a shootout Sept. 13. Three of his fellow officers were wounded in the attack, which occurred at an apartment complex.
Palm Beach County police spokesman Paul Miller said criminals increasingly have stronger fire power than police — and have no qualms with using it. His force started an offensive earlier this year on gangs that netted nearly 2,000 arrests, with 133 weapons confiscated and 348 vehicles seized.
“There seems to be a growing propensity for criminals to shoot at officers,” said Mr. Miller, a former spokesman for the FBI.
Palm Beach County joins a growing number of law-enforcement agencies nationwide that approve of officers carrying highpowered assault rifles. The sheriff authorized AR-15s for all police vehicles, and is in the process of training officers on these weapons, Mr. Miller said.
Multiple-death incidents also are another area of concern, added Mr. Floyd. So far, there have been six multiple shootings of law-enforcement officers.
“It gives you some indication of the types of criminals police are now facing,” he said. “That to me says you are dealing with a more cold-blooded, brazen type of criminal out on the streets who would kill multiple police officers. I don’t think that they would hesitate at all to kill any of us.”
In 2006, Mr. Floyd said 145 officers were killed in the line of duty. Already this year, the figure stands at 168, and he fears it will hit 200 before year’s end. The figures include deaths from gunshots, traffic incidents and other causes.
“What I’m worried about is that the level of violence in this country is rising,” he said. “The number of fatalities of police is a barometer of crime across the board. They are the front lines of defense in this country. If they are being killed in these kinds of numbers, we have to be very concerned not only for their safety but the safety of everyone across the U.S.”