The number of police officers killed by what the FBI classifies as "felonious acts" dropped nearly in half between 2012 and 2013. The statistics from the FBI were just released today. For 2013, 27 officers were killed (all shot except for one struck by a car) as a result of criminal acts. For 2012, 48 officers died in similar circumstances. In 2012 that was a decline, again significantly from 2011, where 72 were killed. So we went from 72 officers killed as a result of criminal activity a year to 27 over the course of three years.
Assaults against police officers dropped a couple of thousand from about 53,000 to 50,000. Officer deaths due to vehicle crashes remained about the same from year to year (48 versus 47). This seems to go along with the national trend of violent crimes dropping in general. But it goes against the trend of how many people officers themselves have killed. Police fatally shot 461 people in 2013, a trend that's been increasing for the past three years and has reached a two-decade high.
It's an important reminder as we wait for the results of the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, deciding whether Darren Wilson will face charges for fatally shooting Michael Brown. It's an important reminder when Cleveland police kill a 12-year-old boy carrying a toy gun. It's an important reminder when we see stories that police have killed more people in Utah over the past five years than any other form of violence outside of domestic conflict. Police have killed more people in Utah since 2010 than gangs or drug dealers.
Obviously, it's a positive that fewer officers are being killed in the line of duty, just as it's a positive that crime trends are heading down. We should be worried, though, if police internalize the idea that this increase in their own shootings is what is keeping them safe in the field and not the general drop in crime.