Nearly 60% Increase in Felonious Law Enforcement Officer Deaths in 2021

Recent statistics from the FBI show that 73 law enforcement officers in the United States were feloniously killed in 2021. This represents a shocking increase of 58.7%, compared with the 46 officers killed in 2020. The last year that saw comparable numbers was 2011, in which year 71 officers were killed.

According to the FBI data, in 2021, unprovoked attacks and ambushes against the police accounted for 43.8% (n=32) of these killings. This represents a drastic increase of nearly 27% when compared with 2020, at which time ambushes accounted for only 17% (n=8) of line-of-duty deaths. This finding is concerning, because this circumstance has outpaced all other felonious officer deaths in 2021 and is now higher than it has been in the last 30 years.

When it comes to finding information on the number of law enforcement officers killed, though, the sources can be a little confusing. First, the official source for data on this topic is the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) database, which is collected by the FBI as part of the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. The data are also published in annual reports. The most recent is presented in the Crime Data Explorer, and archives of past reports are available for download.

However, upon downloading the database and tabulating felonious officer deaths by year, the numbers appear lower than those presented in the reports. For example, for the year of 2020, the database shows 35 felonious law enforcement deaths, and the published report shows 46. It is unclear why there is a difference, or whether data are tabulated differently in the data versus the reports.

Secondly, another source that provides counts and synopses on officer deaths and felonious killings is collated by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). They also report their findings in annual reports, and the numbers appear slightly higher than those reported in official data. For example, the LEOMF tabulated 84 felonious killings of law enforcement for the year 2021, compared to the estimate of 73 reported by the FBI.

Part of the reason for this is likely because LEOKA and UCR participation is voluntary and many agencies routinely do not report their data. When it comes to the NLEOMF, the same is also true, but there are alternative methods to collecting information that don’t involve relying solely on police departments. For example, the NLEOMF allows individuals to submit information about fallen officers, which might allow for more comprehensive data collection.

While the data across these sources differs slightly, it does suggest that felonious killings of law enforcement are higher than they have been in recent years. In particular, it also suggests that ambushes and unprovoked attacks against law enforcement might be increasing.

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