Officers killings shine light on recent rise in line of duty deaths

(Associated Press)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – One was a 14-year veteran of his police department, another had just received his badge three months ago. Now, communities in California and Wisconsin are mourning the deaths of two police officers, both killed by gunfire. According to preliminary data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), which tracks officer deaths in the line of duty, 24 percent more officers were killed in 2014 than in the previous year. And, those numbers already appear to be inching up in 2015.

“An officer when responding to a call never knows if it’s the last call they respond to,” said Steve Groeninger, Sr. Dir. of Communications and Marketing with NLEOMF.

According to the Memorial Fund’s preliminary statistics, 30 officers have died in the line of duty from January through March 25, 2015. That number was 26 for the same period of time in 2014. About one-third of all of those deaths were related to guns. Three recent officer deaths in the United States were all shootings.

San Jose, Tuesday

Officer Michael Johnson, a 14 year veteran of the department, was responding to a call from a family member that a man was despondent, intoxicated and possibly had access to weapons including a rifle. The family member feared he may hurt somebody. When officers arrived on scene, the man allegedly fired at officers from his residence.

“A disturbance call can often be one of the most deadly call an officer responds to. By the time they reach the call, tempers may have flared or reached the boiling point when they arrive,” Groeninger said.

Wisconsin, Tuesday

Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper Trevor Casper had just received his badge on December 19, 2014. He was responding to a bank robbery in the Village of Wausaukee. While searching for a stolen vehicle, Trooper Casper spotted it. The suspect and trooper exchanged gunfire. Both the officer and suspect were killed.

“I don’t think years of service when it comes to responding to a call always makes a difference,” Groeninger said when looking at statistics. “Everyone relies on the training they receive to do what they’re asked to do.”

New Mexico, Last Week

On March 19, a Navajo Nation police officer and gunman were killed. Officer Alex Yazzie was killed, and two others were shot following a chase that started with a domestic violence call. The suspect allegedly ambushed them from behind as the officers approached his vehicle. They shot back and the suspect was killed.

In 2014, ambushes were the leading cause of officer deaths related to guns. Of the 50 gun-related deaths in 2014, 15 officers were shot and killed in an ambush. Six were shot investigating a disturbance call like the San Jose officer was doing. And, only one was shot during a robbery, making what happened in Wisconsin a rare tragedy.

Groeninger said keeping track of how officers die can help prevent deaths in the future and provide solace of the families left behind.

“It’s important for the family, friends, department and community the officers leave behind. It helps them to know their loved one’s death was not in vain. It helps with the grieving process,” he said. “We also take this data and use it to look at trends, key indicators, do we see a pattern? We use the data to try to improve officer safety for today and tomorrow.”

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund tracks officer deaths year-by-year and state-by-state. According to its preliminary data, 126 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 2014, a 24 percent increase from the year before.

Officers Killed in the Line of Duty by State in 2014:

  • California 14
  • Texas 11
  • New York 9
  • Florida 6
  • Georgia 5

The NLEOMF is getting ready to release the names of officers next week who will be enshrined on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall in Washington D.C.

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