The FBI has released its final numbers of the number of police killed in 2015 and they match the preliminary data released in May. For all of 2015, 41 law enforcement officers were killed as a result of attacks. This is a drop in the number of police killed in 2014 by 10. More officers died as a result of accidents, 45.
Long-term trends suggest this is an even bigger decrease. In 2011 there were 72 officers killed. In 2006 there were 48.
But what about assaults against police? The FBI notes that 50,212 police officers were assaulted on duty in 2015 but doesn’t compare to previous years. That’s where things get interesting, because it turns out there was a noticeable increase in assaults against police in 2015. In 2014, when killings were higher, there were only 48,315 reported assaults. So even though fewer police were killed, more were attacked, enough to increase the change the ratio from nine to 10 when determining how many officers out of 100 were assaulted. The percentage of officers needing medical treatment for the assault remained about the same (28 percent).
The increase in assaults is a reversal of a trend. I noted back in May that assaults had been dropping since 2012. But we should be wary of assuming that a single year deviation is the start of a new trend.
We have two and a half months left before the end of 2016, and it does looks like we will see an increase in the number of police deaths this year compared to last year. The Officer Down Memorial Page currently lists 45 officers killed by gunfire and 10 officers killed by vehicle assaults. If those numbers hold up in the FBI’s analysis that will indicate a spike, but it’s nevertheless important not to mistake it for a trend or to think that specifically targeted ambushes against police will be more likely because of high-profile attacks or because of increasing protests against police behavior.
In July, Jesse Walker explored how one might figure out whether there actually was a war on cops and found the data wanting. Read more here.