Traffic-Related Fatalities, Shootings of Police Officers Rise: Report

Number of total deaths rise in first half of year, with California leading

Traffic and firearms-related deaths of on-duty police officers are up for the first time in three years, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Sixty-seven law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the first half of 2014, 16 more than in the same period last year, according to the report. Twenty-six deaths were traffic-related, 25 were firearms-related.

Eight officers were killed in California, more than in any other state. Three of those officers were with the Los Angeles Police Department.

The total number of officers killed nationally, though up 31 percent over last year, is less than half what it was during the first half of 1974, when 140 officers died.

“The number of fatalities nationwide for the entire year of 2013 was 100 — the lowest number since 1944,” said Craig W. Floyd, the chairman and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. “So what we're seeing this year is a spike certainly but still we’re seeing numbers that are somewhat encouraging when you compare it to decades past.”

Of the officers whose deaths were traffic-related, 17 died in car crashes, six were struck and killed outside their vehicles and three died in motorcycle crashes. Nineteen traffic-related deaths were reported in the same period last year and in 2012.

The number of traffic-related deaths has increased since the 1960s even as the number of deaths overall has decreased, the report notes.

Three on-duty LAPD officers have died in traffic collisions this year.

Officer Nicholas Lee, 40, was killed in March when a truck on steep Loma Vista Drive in Beverly Hills lost control and smashed into his police cruiser.

Motorcycle Officer Christopher Cortijo, 51, died in April from injuries sustained when he was struck from behind by an alleged DUI driver in the San Fernando Valley.

Officer Roberto Sanchez was killed in May when an SUV driver allegedly intentionally smashed into his police cruiser as he chased a suspect in Harbor City. The driver in that incident has been charged with murder.

A fourth LAPD officer, Detective Randy Allen, was also killed while off-duty in a traffic collision with a construction vehicle in May just a few hundred yards from where Lee died.

Floyd, of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, said police officers need more driver training and better safety equipment in their cars. Most officers now receive about double the amount of firearms training as driver training, he said.

“And yet fewer than 10 percent of the officers serving today will ever fire their weapon in the line of duty,” he said. “Every officer at some point is going to be behind the wheel of their vehicle responding to an emergency call, chasing a fleeing felon, doing something that is dangerous when you’re a driver and you’re a law enforcement officer.”

As for the officers who were shot and killed, the number rose to 25, compared to 16 in 2013 and 19 in 2012, the report says. Most were killed by handguns, then by shotgun and rifle, and most died while investigating suspicious people or situations, the report says.

“The sharp rise in officers killed by gunfire — many in ambush-style attacks — as well as a significant increase in fatal on-duty heart attacks reminds us that much more work needs to be done to improve officer safety and wellness,” Floyd said in a statement.

Sixteen officers died from other causes, including 13 from job-related illnesses such as heart attacks. That is up from eight illness-related deaths last year.

In the breakdown by state, California was followed by Florida, New York, Texas and Virginia, which all saw four officers die. Fifteen other states had one officer killed; 21 states and the District of Columbia had none.

In addition, four federal officers, three territorial officers and a military officer were killed nationwide.

Most of those killed were municipal officers.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is a nonprofit dedicated to improving safety for law enforcement officers.

Jon Sonnheim of NBC Owned Television Stations contributed to this report.

NBC4 Digital Producer Kelly Goff contributed to this report.

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