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The U.S. has lost an estimated 20,789 police and law enforcement officers in the line of duty in its history.
Some have died while fighting storms (Galveston, 1900). More recently, many others, have been killed in car or helicopter crashes. Some have died trying to defuse bombs. (Nine in one incident in 1917.) A significant number, in recent times, have passed away from heart attacks or other illness on the job.
But what do we know about when and how police officers are attacked and killed? Here are some questions and answers.
Where does this shooting fit in history?
This is an incredibly rare occurrence in modern America.
In the last 30 years, the U.S. has seen only three other incidents with police deaths on this scale or larger. Two of those were broad terrorist attacks – September 11, 2001, and the Oklahoma City Bombing. (See below.) The third was a California helicopter crash which killed five sheriff’s deputies and three national guardsman in 1988.
But when was the last time the U.S. saw so many police targeted at once?
That appears to have been a New Orleans sniper. On the the final day of 1972 and first week of 1973 an AWOL Navy serviceman, who briefly joined the Black Panthers, targeted law enforcement officers. The gunman began a week of shootings by hiding outside a police station and opening fire. By the end, he killed five officers, four other people and wounded an additional 13 others. The shooter wrote a letter explaining he was outraged over the deaths of two black men at the hands of police officers in Baton Rouge.
How many police officers are killed each year now?
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund keeps track of this.
What stands out now? Answer: Police gun deaths are on the rise.
Previous to the Dallas shootings, 2016 displayed two important trends:
What do we know about the most deadly attacks on police?
We know that in recent years, the most deadly attacks on police have come from terrorists.
What things affect the numbers of police deaths?
Looking over the broader sweep of history, many experts believe that when crime goes up, so do police deaths. And very relatedly, when the number of police officers on the street increases, crime decreases. And police deaths decrease.
That theory is bolstered by several low-crime and relatively low-police-death decades in the last century: the 1950s and the 1990s especially.
Where can I see the list of officers killed this year?
That is here, on the Officers Down Memorial Page.
Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
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