The number of law enforcement officers killed by firearms jumped by 56 percent this year and included 15 ambush deaths. But gun-related police deaths still remain far below historic highs and lower than the average annual figures in the past decade, according to a report released Tuesday.
The annual report by the nonprofit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found that 50 officers were killed by guns this year. That’s higher than the 32 such deaths last year but the same as 2012 figures.
In 2011, 73 officers were killed in gunfire, the most in any year in the past decade. The average since 2004 is 55 police deaths annually.
In all, the report found that 126 federal, local, tribal and territorial officers were killed in the line of duty in 2014. That’s a 24 percent jump from last year’s 102 on-duty deaths, though below the average annual figures since 2004 and the all-time high of 156 in 1973, said Steve Groeninger, a spokesman for the memorial fund.
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Of the 126 officer deaths this year, shootings were the leading cause, followed by traffic-related fatalities, at 49.
This year’s increase in gun-related deaths among officers followed a dramatic dip in 2013, when the figure fell to levels not seen since the 19th century.
This year’s uptick comes amid increased tension between police and the public following the high-profile deaths of unarmed black men by white police officers, including those of Eric Garner in New York and Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The states that saw the most officer deaths were California, at 14; Texas, at 11; and New York, at nine. Florida followed with six deaths, and Georgia had five, according to the report.
The 15 ambush assaults on police officers this year compares to just five in 2013, but matched 2012 for the highest total since 1995, the report said.
“We’ve been talking about this well before the Michael Brown and Eric Garner incidents, and the protests over those particular cases – that there has been a very prevalent anti-government sentiment in this country for some time now, and I do believe that anti-government sentiment can influence weak-minded individuals to commit violent acts against law-enforcement officers,” said Craig Floyd, chairman and CEO of the memorial fund.
“That’s at least part of the reason we’re seeing this increase in ambush-style attacks, officers being targeted simply because they’re cops in uniform,” Floyd said.
Among the ambush assaults were the fatal attacks on two police officers in New York City on Dec. 20. Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were gunned down in their patrol car by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who then ran into a subway station and killed himself. Brinsley had made threatening posts online and references to the Garner and Brown cases.
Floyd also pointed to the fatal shooting of two Las Vegas police officers ambushed in June as they were eating lunch in a pizza shop, and a Pennsylvania state trooper killed in an ambush in September by a survivalist who then led police on a 48-day manhunt.