NEW YORK – Shooting deaths of law enforcement officers spiked 78 percent in the first half of 2016 compared to last year, including an alarming increase in ambush-style assaults like the ones that killed eight officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, according to a report released Wednesday.
However, data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund shows that firearms-related deaths of officers in the line of duty are still lower than they were during previous decades like the 1970s.
Thirty-two officers died in firearms-related incidents so far this year including 14 that were ambush-style attacks, according to the report. During the same period last year, 18 officers were shot and killed in the line of duty including three that were considered ambush attacks.
"That's a very alarming, shocking increase in the number of officers who are being literally assassinated because of the uniform they wear and the job that they do," said Craig W. Floyd, who heads the organization.
The organization usually releases a mid-year report tracking incidents for the first six months but decided to extend the period due to the July attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge against police officers. So the report goes from the beginning of January to July 20 and compares it to the same period last year. On their website, the organization also keeps a running tally of officers who died in the line of duty. Those figures through July 26 show that 33 officers have been shot and killed so far this year.
The report comes at a time of heightened tension between communities across the country and police officers. Two police officers and one sheriff's deputy were shot and killed during an ambush on July 17 in Baton Rouge by a black gunman who was later killed by responding officers. In Dallas, a black gunman opened fire on police during a July 7 protest against recent police shootings of black suspects; the gunman killed five officers before being killed by authorities.
A total of 67 officers have died in the line of duty so far in 2016, according to the report. That figure also includes officers who died in traffic accidents, fatal falls or airplane crashes.
Texas leads the nation in the number of law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty with 14 deaths so far this year, including the five recent slayings in Dallas. Louisiana, where three officers were shot and killed in Baton Rouge, ranked second with a total of seven officers who died in the line of duty.
Despite the recent high-profile shootings of police, the average number of officers shot and killed on the job is significantly lower than in previous decades. Floyd said during the 1970s, there was an average of 127 officers shot and killed yearly; during the last ten years through 2015, the average number shot and killed is 52. He cited the reduction in violent crime in recent decades and said officers have benefited from the widespread introduction of body armor and improved trauma care if they do get shot.
But he noted a worrying increase in recent years in anti-police and anti-government sentiment.