A reader asked the Washington Post whether more whites or blacks kill police officers after a fact check on New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton's claim that more than 100 officers are killed every year due to anger, hatred and violence. The Post gave Bratton two Pinocchios for misrepresenting data on police killings. While more than 100 officers die on duty every year, accidents generally outnumber murders of police each year. Officers killed by offenders acting out of “anger and hatred,” such as ambush attacks, are a small percentage of officer deaths each year. The later inquiry was timely, given the debates over race and homicides of and by police. The FBI provided the Post’s fact checker a detailed database of victim officers and offenders in felonious incidents, accidental deaths and assaults with injury, from the early 1980s.
From 1980 to 2013, there were 2,269 officers killed in felonious incidents, and 2,896 offenders. The racial breakdown of offenders over the 33-year period: 52 percent were white, and 41 percent were black. Law enforcement fatalities have been declining since the 1970s. Felonious deaths also have declined since that time: Nearly 140 officers died in felonious incidents in 1973; in 2013, 27 officers were killed in felonious incidents. Ambushes accounted for 21.7 percent of felonious deaths from 2004 to 2013. The analysis has limitations. There is not enough information on each officer's death and circumstance to understand what motivated the killings, who killed whom, why, and whether there are identifiable trends. Those details would provide useful context – for example, how “sovereign citizen” attacks compare to members of gangs targeting police.