FBI Director: 73 police officers were killed in the line of duty last year

FBI Director Christopher Wray said 73 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty last year, the highest number of police who were intentionally killed in the line of duty since 142 officers died in 2001, including 72 that perished in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Covid-19 was the leading cause of law enforcement officer deaths in recent years, which Wray did not mention as he told only one part of a complex story that is tragic on many levels.

Murders of all kinds across the US dramatically increased during the tenure of former President Donald Trump, who on numerous occasions early in his term falsely stated that “the murder rate in the United States is the highest it’s been in 45 years” although the murder rate was lower than it was at any point during the 44-year period from 1965 to 2009 despite an increase from 2014 to 2015.

America has more violent crime than other developed nations, which the research suggests is in large part thanks to America’s extraordinary levels of gun ownership.

In the wake of protest movements following the killings of Black Americans by police, confidence in US police dropped to record lows, according to a report released by Gallup in August 2020.

The pollster reported in 2021 that some of these perceptions have slightly rebounded, but stark racial and partisan divides remain in how Americans view the police.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a non-profit dedicated to fallen officers, the total number of police who died in the line of duty in 2021 was the highest on record, driven by Covid-19. The group reported 336 Covid-19 deaths among line-of-duty officers in 2021, a 32% increase from the 254 officers who died from Covid-19 in 2020.

“As tragic as this is to see this increase in felonious assaults against police officers, more officers will die of Covid than will be stabbed, shot, or die in traffic accidents and many of those deaths are preventable,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a national policy organization that supports law enforcement agencies.

President Joe Biden promised to renew efforts to tackle violent crime in the US, particularly in major cities that experienced spikes in such offenses.

Police departments across the US define violent crime in slightly different ways, but the data usually includes murder, robbery, assault and rape.

Overall, violent crime was up by about 3 percent in 2020 over the previous year, as the Trump administration presided over a reversal of the long-term downward trend in crime, which reached a peak in the early 1990s.

The total number of gun violence incidents skyrocketed during the Trump years, with firearms-related deaths other than suicide rising to 14,919 in 2018, to 15,487 in 2019, to 19,508 and 20,904 last year.

Across the US, there were 25% more murders recorded during Trump’s last year in the White House than there were in 2019. This is a steep rise, but the murder rate is still far lower than it was in the early 1990s, when it was almost double the current figure.

Trump nominated Wray to be the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on June 7, 2017, replacing James Comey, who was fired about a month earlier. Wray was Governor Chris Christie’s personal attorney during the Bridgegate scandal, which was orchestrated by New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein, the longtime Republican dirty trickster.

Wray said violence against police was a “phenomenon” that “doesn’t get enough attention” and said an officer was killed on average every five days.

Gunfire has consistently been the leading cause of felonious officer deaths each year — and 2021 was no different.

The FBI has not released its full end-of-year breakdown but reported that 55 officers were killed by gunfire in 2021 through the end of November, up from 39 in the same time frame in both 2020 and 2019.

Attention in recent years has instead focused on the 1,000 people who are killed in the US by police each year, although only a small proportion of such cases lead to criminal charges.

Wray said that “some” of the violence against police is “tied to the violent crime problem as a whole”.

But, he said, authorities believe that “an alarming percentage” of the officers killed were targeted and “killed through things like being ambushed or shot while out on patrol”.

“Wearing the badge shouldn’t make you a target,” he added.

Wray did not disclose how many of the 73 officers were targeted in such a manner.

In January, however, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) said that it had recorded 103 “ambush-style attacks” on officers in 2021, resulting in 130 officers shot and 30 killed.

In 2020, the FBI’s own data estimates that murders rose 29% from 2019, the sharpest increase since national-level record keeping began in 1960.

On a per capita basis, 2020’s total of 6.5 murders per 100,000 people is lower than a high of 9.8 per 100,000 set in 1991.

A separate analysis of data from 22 cities released by the Council on Criminal Justice in January found that murders rose 5% in 2021, and have gone up 44% since 2019.

“Certainly the pandemic didn’t help,” said Wray, speaking about the spike in murders.

“We’re seeing more and more juveniles committing violent crime, and that’s certainly an issue. We’re seeing a certain amount of interstate gun trafficking. That’s part of it. And we’re seeing an alarming frequency of some of the worst of the worst getting back out on the streets.”

While the number of people killed by officers is harder to track, a running tally from the Washington Post estimates that about 1,000 people have been shot dead by police in each of the last seven years.

As of 1 April, FOP data shows that 17 officers were shot and killed so far in 2022.

In a high-profile incident in January, two members of the New York Police Department were fatally shot in January while responding to a call about a domestic disturbance in a Manhattan apartment building.

The suspected gunman was killed by a third officer.

Biden has at least tried to follow through on some of his criminal-justice campaign promises, proposing $5 billion for community violence intervention programs that would fund training, research, grants, and data collection for gun-violence prevention on the ground.

Those additional billions in funding for law enforcement were derailed when the Build Back Better plan stalled in the Senate.

In terms of tackling gun violence, Biden made noteworthy investments in community-led initiatives. As part of his successful American Rescue Plan, $350 billion was allocated for state and local funding to go toward community violence intervention programs.

Biden also nominated 75 people to federal courts, with 40 of them confirmed.

Having said he would improve diversity among the ranks of people who enforce the justice system, over 60% of his nominees were people of color and 75% of them were women, according to a report by the Alliance for Justice.

Under Biden’s presidency, 37 U.S. Attorneys have been nominated, 20 of whom are Black along with 13 women.

Before Biden’s presidency, women of color only made up 4% of sitting federal judges. He’s nominated 31 women of color for federal judge positions in his first year, compared to two for Trump and nine for former President Barack Obama.

While on the campaign trail, Biden said he would eliminate capital punishment at the federal level. Though it has not been eliminated, there is currently a moratorium on the death penalty. The Supreme Court recently reinstated the death penalty for Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Another one of his promises included ending the federal government’s reliance on private prisons. Biden did order the Department of Justice (DOJ) not to renew contracts with private facilities in 2021; however, those same kinds of facilities are still used for federal detention centers, including ones overseen by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), since ICE is not part of the DOJ.

Despite his progress on gun violence, some experts and advocates would like to see Biden appoint a gun-violence political leader or “czar” to oversee the administration’s efforts to address the problem.

David Chipman—Biden’s first pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—did not make it through his confirmation process, leaving the agency leaderless and underfunded.

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