Police and Law Enforcement

America's police officers are still operating in dangerous times

Scott Erickson

Last year, 2016, was a particularly dangerous year for our nation’s police officers: 145 officers were killed or died in the line of duty according to data from the Officer Down Memorial Page, the highest total in five years. 

More disturbing, 21 officers lost their lives in ambush-style attacks last year, nearly quadrupling the six officers killed in similar attacks in 2015. 

These numbers include the horrendous assassination of five police officers in Dallas, Texas, in July, 2016, and three others in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, only ten days later. 

But are things getting better for our nation’s police officers? Has anti-police rhetoric become less heated and has that translated into fewer officers being deliberately targeted by society’s criminal element?

So far, the jury is still out. 

Sadly, 53 officers have already lost their lives in the line of duty this year, a staggering 33 percent jump from this point last year. Digging into the data provides a little more clarity into the numbers. 

Twenty of the 53 officers killed so far in 2017 were felled by gunfire, a modest but still unacceptable increase of five percent over last year. 

Where the jump was quite a bit more dramatic, however, was in the number of officers killed in auto-related accidents while on duty. Twenty-one of the 53 officers that have died in 2017 have been killed in auto-related incidents, a massive spike of 50 percent over this point last year.

But what about ambush-style attacks? The kind where individuals, whose motivations can range from simple animus to outright hatred of police, deliberately seek out and murder a police officer without provocation of any kind?

Again, the data isn’t clear just yet but several incidents so far this year suggest a still tenuous environment in which our officers find themselves operating. 

In Miami this past March, two officers found themselves the target of an ambush attack when the police vehicle in which they were sitting was struck by dozens of rounds of gunfire. The officers had been working surveillance — in plainclothes and in an unmarked police vehicle — in a gang-infested neighborhood when several assailants opened fire on them. Both officers suffered injuries but thankfully were not killed.

In early April, Assistant Chief Deputy Clint Greenwood of the Harris County Constable’s Office in Texas was assassinated while he walked into his office — struck by rifle fire from a cowardly assailant who fled the scene and committed suicide shortly thereafter. 

And just a few weeks ago, two Chicago police officers were targeted by criminals in the citys Back of the Yards neighborhood. The officers, working in plainclothes but wearing clearly identifiable police vests and badges, were driving in the neighborhood when two vehicles pulled up alongside them and opened fire. Both officers were struck by gunfire but survived the incident. A high-powered rifle was recovered in one of the suspect vehicles a short time later. 

And this Chicago incident came on the heels of another ambush attack on Detroit police only days earlier. In that incident, officers had responded to an apartment complex for a domestic violence call when a man, uninvolved with the call for service, opened fire on the officers. 

One of the officers was struck in the back of the head and seriously injured but other officers were able to return fire and the suspect died on scene.

The aforementioned incidents paint a less-than-rosy picture of the current state of policing in America but only time will tell if we are trending away from the horrors experienced in 2016 or if our nation’s police officers will continue to find themselves targeted by the worst of society. 

Make no mistake, police work will never be completely safe or without risk but it is within this reality that the men and women of law enforcement willfully operate and it is why we so aptly refer to them as heroes. 

Scott G. Erickson is the Founder and President of Americans in Support of Law Enforcement.