The number of police deaths has topped 160 five times since 2000, including 240 in 2001. The annual toll routinely topped 200 in the 1970s and before that in the 1920s.
What were the causes of the deaths in the line of duty?
Fifty-nine federal, state and local officers were killed by gunfire in 2010, a 20 percent jump from last year's figures, when 49 were killed. The total does not include the death of a Georgia State Patrol trooper shot in the neck Monday night in Atlanta as he tried to make a traffic stop. And 73 officers died in traffic incidents, a rise from the 51 killed in 2009, according to the data.
There were 28 other deaths in the line of duty in 2010 compared to 17 in 2009.
The numbers need to be considered relative to the total number of law enforcement officers.
There are as of 2006, 683,396 full time state, city, university and college, metropolitan and non-metropolitan county, and other law enforcement officers in the United States. There are approx. 120,000 full time law enforcement personnel working for the federal government adding up to a total number of 800,000 law enforcement personnel in the U.S.
Thus, over the course of a career a little less than 1% of police officers die in the line of duty, with a little less than half of those deaths consisting of traffic accidents.
Those deaths are tragic, of course, and in the case of homicides, reprehensible and culpable. But, police officers are killed in the line of duty, and kill others in the line of duty (the annual number of justified killings by law enforcement is usually in the very low hundreds and are outnumbered by criminal homicides by roughly 100 to 1), far less often (thankfully) than a typical person's intuition based on fictional and media accounts would suggest. Something on the order of 97% of law enforcement officers, over an entire career, never kill anyone and are not killed in the line of duty. Most law enforcement officers never fire their firearms in anger in their entire careers.
Law enforcement is still a dangerous job (and in some times and places, such as contemporary Northern Mexico, Iraq and Afghanistan, it is very dangerous) and certainly requires officers to go into dangerous situations. The number of occupational deaths from farming, the private industry with the highest rate of occupational deaths is 4.5 per 100,000 per year compared to about 20 for law enforcement. But, it is not nearly a dangerous as most people suppose it to be.