Written by: Greg Ellifritz
The FBI recently released its annual Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted report. According to the FBI webpage:
“The FBI publishes Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted each year to provide information about officers who were killed, feloniously or accidentally, and those officers who were assaulted while performing their duties.”
I find the report to be a treasure trove of information about cop-killing violent criminals. It should be mandatory reading for every police officer. Armed citizens will also find the information useful as the criminals who prey on cops also regularly attack citizens in a similar manner.
The report is long. It doesn’t matter. Take the time to read it. You may learn something that will save your life.
One of the most interesting sections is the chapter of Summaries of Officers Feloniously Killed. The chapter provides short descriptions of the circumstances involved in all 66 felonious police deaths last year. Take your time to analyze each situation. If you are a cop, figure out how you might use the lessons presented in this report to improve your tactics and awareness. Don’t let these officers’ deaths be in vain. They would want you to learn from their mistakes.
Several interesting facts jumped out at me this year. While I’m only barely scratching the surface of the report, here are some of my thoughts…
– Numbers of officers killed. This table shows that for the last 10 years, LE deaths have hovered in a very narrow range. During every year in that time frame LE deaths averaged around 50 per year. Despite having an extraordinarily high number of officers killed in 2016, we aren’t really outside the bounds of statistical anomaly. Some years have lots of cops killed. Other years see fewer police fatalities. Long term averages haven’t changed much. Read Police Deaths Up for 2016, but Are Already Trending Back Down for an additional explanation of these trends.
With that said, I think it is very interesting to note that the numbers of law enforcement officers both killed and assaulted are up compared to previous years. Additionally, according to this table:
- The number of officers assaulted with firearms is the highest it’s been in a decade
- The number of officers assaulted with knives is the highest it’s been in a decade
- The number of officers assaulted with “other dangerous weapons” is the highest it’s been in a decade
-For the first time in a decade, abushes were responsible for the most felonious officer deaths. In Iowa, two separate officers were ambushed and killed while merely sitting in their police cars. The offender shot both officers with approximately 30 rounds each with a .223 semi automatic rifle. Cops need to choose the places where they sit to do reports or take a break with this in mind. I always choose to sit in large, well lit, abandoned parking lots with minimal nearby foot traffic. I want the greatest chance possible of being able to see any approaching attackers as I sit in the car.
– Very few officers die from knife assaults. There hasn’t been an officer killed with a blade in more than four years. Only four total officers were stabbed to death in the last 10 years of reporting. The statement “I’d rather be shot than stabbed” truly displays the ignorance of the speaker.
– The age of the average officer killed has not changed. It has hovered around 40 for more than a decade. It’s not the rookies who are getting killed. The ones dying are experienced officers in the prime of their career. They tend to feel more comfortable with their abilities and have years of good outcomes under their belts. This confidence can hurt them.
I noticed also that 11 out of 66 officers killed were over 50 years old. This is the highest number of older officers being killed in a decade. With uncertain economic times and the development of “DROP” type delayed retirement options, the profession is aging. In earlier years, cops in their 50s retired. It’s a young man’s game. Now more officers are staying longer and longer. Those officers are getting killed at a higher rate. Staying in the profession an extra five to ten years isn’t worth the financial benefits if you are killed before you get the chance to retire and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
– Only one officer last year was killed with his own weapon. The 10-year average is almost 3%. This is one of the few positive data points in this report. Either officers are getting better weapon retention training or are using better quality retention holsters. Both are good developments. When I first started my police career, it was not uncommon to see a year when 20% of officers killed were killed with their own firearms.
– Only one officer in 2016 was killed taking police action while off duty. Why would any police officer choose not to carry his gun off duty? Some officers’ laziness and apathy are astounding to me. Please choose carefully if you really need to get involved in any off duty encounter. You probably won’t have your vest, your radio, your rifle, or your friends. I honestly can’t think of many encounters that would merit my off duty involvement unless a family member or I was facing a direct criminal threat.
-Almost Two-thirds of officers killed did not even attempt to use their duty weapon to stop the attack. That means that the attacks on the officers happened very suddenly or unexpectedly in most cases. Police trainers need to do a better job teaching the importance of pre-assault indicators and body language. Historically less than half of officers killed did not attempt to fire their weapons. We are getting worse at picking up assaultive cues. I think it’s because we tend to hire officers now how have never been in a fight or experienced any real aggression outside police academy training.
–Officers were involved in more long distance confrontations this year than ever before. Historically, about half of all officers killed have been closer than five feet from their attacker at the time of death. This year that number was much smaller at 30%. This year a stunning 25% of officers killed were greater than 21 feet away from their attackers. How good is your long distance pistol shooting?
– Only 27% of killers were drunk or high at the time of the officer’s death. Only 3% were mentally ill. Police deaths can’t generally be blamed on these factors. People who kill cops are usually sane and sober. They are just exceptionally violent psychopaths. Everyone needs to acknowledge that people like this exist.
– 2,377 officers were assaulted with a firearm last year, yet only 11.9% of them were injured. That means a lot of criminals pull guns on cops without shooting. A lot of offenders fire shots at cops, but miss. Assuming that multiple shots were fired in at least some of the incidents, criminal hit rates are well under 10%. That’s a good thing for the cops being shot at, but may not be a good thing for anyone else around. Those bullets have to hit something. If you see cops with drawn weapons, get out of the area or seek cover. Don’t hang around to watch or you might get hit by one of the 90% of bullets criminals fire that miss the intended target!
– 9.8% of officers in the USA were assaulted last year. If you are a cop and your firearms/DT skills aren’t up to par, get some training!
-In several instances, police officers could have used a backup weapon. In an Alaska case, an officer ran completely out of ammunition in his service pistol. A round struck and disabled an officer’s rifle in Arkansas. In North Carolina, an officer’s duty pistol malfunctioned. In any of these cases, a secondary gun would have been incredibly useful.
I’ve noted that fewer officers seem to be carrying backup guns these days. I don’t think that’s a good trend. I’ve never worked a single day on the street without carrying a concealed second pistol.
-In four different cop killings, the killer was armed with more than one firearm. Looking at the trend I mentioned above, the bad guys are more likely to be carrying backup guns than the cops! If an assailant has dropped his gun or has a weapon that appears to be empty, remain cautious as you take him into custody. There’s a good chance that he might have another weapon hidden on his person.
-A California cop killer toted his murder weapon in a plastic bag. I’ve written about “The Bag Trick” before. Cops need to be aware of this strategy.
-In three different killings, cops had Tasers in their hands when criminals drew guns. In two of those three instances, the killers drew a firearm AFTER the first shock cycle had been delivered. I fear that cops are over-relying on Tasers as control weapons. In practical numbers, the Taser is only effective a little more than half of the times it is deployed. Tasers should be used primarily when officers already have a partner providing lethal force backup in the event the electronic control device fails.
-I counted at least nine situations that required officers to rescue and evacuate their injured co-worker while still under fire from the attacker. Is that a skill your agency has trained you to perform? I would hazard a guess that most officers don’t know how to do this safely. The time to learn is now, not while your fellow officer is bleeding out and you are being fired upon.
-Warning shots. There has been a recent resurgence in the interest of allowing cops to fire “warning shots” in life threatening situations. This ridiculous policy agenda is being backed by the IACP. I will note that in one situation mentioned in the report, the victim officer attempted to fire warning shots. It didn’t work.
Most of these observations are directed at my police officer readers. If you aren’t a cop, what does this report mean for you?
I would assert that this report is just as important for the armed citizen as it is for the police officer. 76% of the offenders in the study had prior criminal records. 24% were actually on probation, parole, or conditional release at the time they killed a cop. Who do you think were victimized by the killers’ previous crimes? You guessed it…people like you. The same criminals who kill cops also victimize armed citizens. Study your enemy and be prepared.
Please take a look at the trends I identified above. But also realize that we have a selection bias in this study. We are studying the officers WHO LOST their gunfights. We might see some very different trends if the same data analysis tools were turned loose to study the incidents where officers prevailed against their adversary.
These scenarios are useful to look at, but please don’t base your entire training system around trying to remediate behaviors that are seen in the gunfight losers. A better option might be to model behaviors observed in gunfight winners. Unfortunately, little data is available on a national level when officers prevail. We only study the losses. That is to the profession’s detriment.
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