Having spent 34 years as the founding CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, I have dedicated most of my professional career honoring law enforcement’s fallen heroes and working to make it safer for those who continue to serve. That is why it saddens me so deeply to know that 2021 was the deadliest year ever in American policing history.
To put it in perspective, just consider that prior to 2021 the deadliest year ever for law enforcement was 1930, when 312 officers died in the line of duty. According to preliminary statistics reported by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), 458 officers died in the line of duty in 2021 (47% more than died in 1930). While the final number may change a bit after further review, one thing is certain—2021 was the darkest and most tragic year in law enforcement history.
While it appears that, for the second year in a row, more officers died in the line of duty from COVID than any other cause, there were significant increases in all categories of officer fatalities last year. The number of officers killed by gunfire (62) rose by 38% over the total in 2020; traffic-related deaths (58) also increased by 38%; and the “other” category of death (338), which includes COVID and other job-related illnesses, jumped by 63% over the 2020 total. The overall preliminary officer fatality figure for 2021 (458) represents a 55% increase over the 295 officers who died in the line of duty in 2020.
The National Fraternal Order of Police tracks the number of officers shot (fatal and non- fatal), and the circumstances of those shootings. They have reported that 346 officers were shot in the line of duty nationwide in 2021, including 130 officers who were shot in 103 ambush-style attacks (a 115% increase from 2020).
Police retirements have jumped 45% over the past year and resignations are up 18%. We now have the fewest number of law enforcement officers on a per resident basis in the last 25 years. The fact that there are fewer officers, with less experience, to prevent violent crime and serve as back-up to other officers in harm’s way makes an officer’s job today more dangerous than ever.
With all of this heartbreaking and alarming news as backdrop, it is shameful and despicable knowing that some elected officials at the federal, state and local level of government continue to push for “defunding the police” and preventing agencies from getting the personnel, equipment, training and technology necessary for officer safety and public safety.
Earlier this year, Scott Wolfe, Ph.D., an associate professor at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice, declared that the “defund” movement has “emboldened” criminals who do not view police as legitimate. He added that “many portions of the population have gone too far” in their criticism of law enforcement. I fully agree. Our elected officials and community activists need to understand that words do matter. By questioning the value of policing and vilifying the entire profession, they are encouraging criminals to resist, assault and even kill our officers. Look no further than the dramatic surge in ambush-style attacks on our officers this past year as all the proof needed.
Here is a recap of 2021. More law enforcement officers died in the line of duty than ever before. At least 16 major U.S. cities set all-time homicide records. The ranks of law enforcement have dropped to their lowest per capita total than at any time in the last quarter century. Veteran leaders and rank-and-file officers are leaving the profession in droves and recruitment is down dramatically. Clearly, the “defund,” anti-law enforcement movement has been a colossal failure and created an officer safety and public safety crisis. It must be stopped. The lives of our citizens and our policing professionals depend on it.
About the Author
Craig W. Floyd is the Founding CEO of Citizens Behind the Badge (behindbadge.org), and is the Founding CEO Emeritus of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, where he led the effort to build the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and the National Law Enforcement Museum.