The year 2020 was the deadliest for law enforcement since 1974. Despite the widespread civil unrest and rising violent crime in several major cities throughout the last year, COVID-19 was the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund’s recently released annual report of fatalities among law enforcement officers.
Along with other efforts to support law enforcement members and their families, the NLEOMF collects data on federal, state, military, tribal, and local law enforcement line-of-duty deaths. The organization collected information from around the country and found that 264 officers died in the line of duty from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2020. This is a 96% increase from the 135 line-of-duty law enforcement deaths in 2019.
Of the deceased officers, 246 were male and 18 female, with the average age being 47 years old, with 17 years of service in law enforcement. Also, on average, each death left behind two children. The line-of-duty causes of death for officers in 2020 ranged from heart attacks to getting physically beaten to death.
The NLEOMF only counts line-of-duty deaths, and suicide isn’t considered in its annual law enforcement fatalities report. According to Blue H.E.L.P. (honor, educate, lead, prevent), a law enforcement suicide-focused nonprofit that supports fallen officers’ surviving family members and records LEO suicide statistics, 173 law enforcement officers committed suicide in 2020.
Based on reports from the NLEOMF and Blue H.E.L.P., 437 law enforcement officers died in 2020. Even with widespread civil unrest and calls for dismantling police departments across the country throughout 2020, thousands of officers continually returned to the streets to enforce the law and do their best to protect American citizens.
According to the report, COVID-19 was responsible for 145 line-of-duty LEO deaths, a preliminary count. The NLEOMF is still gathering data to confirm more COVID-19 related deaths and expects the number to increase by the time every case is verified.
The report specified that the NLEOMF established a task force to gather information to connect COVID-19 deaths in the line of duty and verify how the deceased officer had been exposed.
“The goal of the Task Force is to compile, acknowledge, and investigate every law enforcement fatality attributed to Covid-19 in the United States,” stated the report, “and to ensure that the officer is rightfully honored on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.”
The report cited the second-highest cause of line-of-duty deaths as being related to firearms, which took 48 law enforcement officers’ lives. This is a 6% decrease from 2019’s 51 firearm-related LEO deaths. The report breaks down the 48 deaths into various types of incidents, such as responding to “domestic disturbance calls,” “inadvertent gunfire,” or “robbery or burglary in-progress” calls.
Traffic-related LEO deaths ticked up from 2019’s 43 to 44 in 2020. The report states that 18 officers died in multiple-vehicle automobile accidents, eight in single-vehicle accidents, three in motorcycle crashes, and 15 after being hit outside of their squad car by a passing vehicle.
Five LEOs have died in the line of duty in 2021 so far, according to the NLEOMF. One of the most recent is US Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, also a retired New Jersey Air National Guard airman, who died Thursday evening after succumbing to wounds he sustained while defending the Capitol during the siege the previous day. USCP Officer Howard Liebengood, who was also among the officers who responded to the rioting at the Capitol, committed suicide on Saturday, just days after the violent attack; his death is not included in the NLEOMF’s count.