The toll of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen every year since 2009, says Hearst Newspapers. Last year, 173 officers died in the line of duty, 68 from gunshots. It was the first year since 1996 that shootings outpaced crashes as the leading cause of on-duty death. So far this year, 85 officers have been killed, 32 by guns – but “we’re a ways out from the end of the calendar year,” said John Firman of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “We got a war going on out there. There’s a proliferation of illegal guns in the hands of people willing to use them.”
Officials are optimistic that improved training and wider use of body armor are beginning to work. In the past two years, the U.S. Justice Department has awarded $61 million to police to purchase 382,000 vests on condition the departments require officers to use them. Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder convened the Officer Safety and Wellness Group, bringing together crime experts and police officials to find ways of reducing officer fatalities as well as suicides, which account for 140 deaths a year. Police training increasingly focuses on handling predictably dangerous situations including making traffic stops, serving warrants, investigating domestic disturbances, breaking up crimes in progress, and transporting prisoners.