Police fatalities move downward in 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press Writer



Greater use of bullet-resistant vests and stun guns helped reduce police deaths in 2008 compared with the previous year, two law enforcement support groups report.

Law-enforcement officer deaths in the line of duty this year totaled 140, compared with 181 in 2007. Last year's figure represented a spike in police deaths.

The figures, which covered deaths through Sunday, were reported by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and Concerns of Police Survivors.

Gunfire deaths dropped to 41 officers this year, compared with 68 in 2007. The 2008 number represented the lowest total since 1956 _ when there were 35 _ and was far below the peak of 156 officers killed by gunfire in 1973.

More than 70 percent of policemen use bullet-resistant vests compared with fewer than half a decade ago, Craig Floyd, chairman of the Memorial Fund, said in an interview.

And officers are making better use of Taser stun guns and other non-lethal weapons that keep them a safe distance from violent offenders, Floyd said.

Traffic-related deaths also declined, with 71 officers killed this year, compared with 83 in 2007. It was the 11th consecutive year that more officers were killed in traffic incidents than from any other cause.

More than 61 percent of this year's fatalities involved accidents and 39 percent resulted from criminal acts.

However, 15 women officers died in 2008 compared with six a year ago. More women officers than before are in harm's way, Floyd said, because they're taking on the same dangerous assignments as men.

To avoid traffic deaths, officers are better trained in high-speed and defensive driving techniques. Police vehicles now have better safety equipment, including side air bags and a substance installed near the gas tank to suppress fire when the vehicle is struck.

The states with the most deaths were Texas with 14, followed by California with 12, then Florida and Pennsylvania with eight apiece.

Other factors cited by Floyd for the reduction in police fatalities:

_A record 2.3 million adult criminals behind bars, according to a study released earlier this year by the Pew Center on the States.

_A 2007 violent crime rate that held steady at the 2005 level, according to the Justice Department.

The Memorial Fund honors law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty and is in charge of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington.

Concerns of Police Survivors provides support and counseling to surviving family members of officers killed in the line of duty.


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