Although the majority of police line of duty deaths are caused by criminal activity like gunfire and vehicular assault, dozens of officers are killed every year as a result of non-criminal incidents. In 2018 alone, 49 police officers were killed in incidents not necessarily related to confrontation with criminals.
So what are the leading causes of death in this category and are there any ways to mitigate the risks for America’s police officers?
Safety-related line of duty deaths in 2018
In 2018, 49 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in incidents unrelated to criminal activity. The leading cause of line of duty deaths in 2018 in this category was automobile accidents, which accounted for 25 deaths. The second leading cause was heart attack. Since 2016, 51 officers have died of heart attacks in the line of duty, including 17 officers in 2018. Other causes of death for officers in 2018 include drowning (4), accidental gunfire (1), and falls (1).
The number of deaths in this category is simply too high, especially given the increased risks officers face from criminals.
Is a lack of equipment and training to blame?
The question of how line of duty deaths like these can be prevented is hard to pin down, but equipment and training could be to blame for at least some of these incidents. In the case of automobile accidents, it is hard to know if increased training could help mitigate risks for officers but that is certainly an issue that requires examining given the number of officers killed every year in automobile accidents.
Furthermore, deaths from heart attacks could, in part, stem from a shortage of physical training and health monitoring technology. Of course, new technologies and conditioning standards would not completely eliminate the risk of police officer heart attacks given the extreme strains of the job. Regardless, 51 officer deaths from heart attacks in the last three years is a statistic that should spark further examination of the problem.
There is no possible way to eliminate all safety-related law enforcement deaths, but further examination of training and equipment needs could help to lower the number of deaths in these categories. We lose too many police officers every year already!