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Are police fatalities on the rise?

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment  April 13, 2012 05:15 PM

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Thursday night’s deadly shoot-out in Greenland, N.H., occurring on the same day as a fatal stand-off in Modesto, Calif., has some observers around the country wondering if the job of a police officer is perhaps getting appreciably more dangerous. And, oddly enough, a story in last Monday’s New York Times, under the ominous headline “Even as Violent Crime Falls, Killing of Officers Rises,” would seem to confirm the impression:

"As violent crime has decreased across the country, a disturbing trend has emerged: rising numbers of police officers are being killed. According to statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 72 officers were killed by perpetrators in 2011, a 25 percent increase from the previous year and a 75 percent increase from 2008."

There is more to the matter than the Times noted in its suddenly and sadly relevant story. These are the FBI figures on the number of police officers feloniously killed (as opposed to those killed accidentally) that the Times would have used for its report, data which show a sharp rise in fatalities.

LEK1a.jpg

Unfortunately (if you’re at the Times) and fortunately (if you’re concerned about the safety of law enforcement personnel), this three-year trend is an aberration—a short-term rise following decades of decline. In fact, the benchmark for the 75-percent increase used by the Times happens to have been the lowest level in almost four decades. Here is the fuller picture:

LEK2.jpg

I don’t mean to dismiss the 2011 spike in officers killed as being unimportant, nor do I wish to minimize the tragic shootings that occurred this week. However, it is premature to suggest that the threat level is rising, notwithstanding Thursday's sad outcomes. The short-term surge in police killings, which partly resulted from a few multiple-victim incidents during 2011, will likely reverse itself in 2012.


Author's note: You can follow me on twitter at @jamesalanfox or Facebook at Professor James Alan Fox for notifications of new blog postings. Also, you can find me on the Web at www.jamesalanfox.com or contact me by e-mail at j.fox@neu.edu.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University. He has written 18 books, including his newest, "Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool through College." More »

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