For the second year in a row, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers in the United States, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
According to preliminary data compiled by the organisation, a total of 458 officers died in the line of duty in the country last year, the deadliest year in more than 90 years and an increase of 55 per cent from 2020. Among them, it was found that 301 federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers had died due to COVID-19.
“NLEOMF has been informed that these officers died due to direct exposure to the virus in the course of their official duties,” the report said.
The report said felony attacks were responsible for the deaths of 84 officers last year, of which 62 officers were killed with firearms. Sixty-eight people died in traffic-related incidents while working on the road. There was an increase in both firearm attacks and traffic-related deaths compared to the previous year.
The report said the remaining deaths were attributed to causes such as heart attack, stroke and 9/11-related illnesses. Other officers were killed in beatings, drownings and stabbings. One officer was killed by floodwaters, and another was killed in a tornado.
In the three decades before the pandemic, the annual number of officers killed in the line of duty of the organization exceeded 200 only twice, in 2001 and 2007. The last time it was above 300 was in 1930.
While hundreds of Covid-19-related official deaths were identified, the report is preliminary and its authors expected agencies to not report a significant number of them yet. “Law enforcement officers nationwide are exposed to the COVID-19 virus in the course of their daily work,” it said. “Therefore, the number of line-of-duty deaths is sadly continuing to rise.”
Last fall, it was reported that more than 460 US law enforcement officers had died of Covid-19 infections tied to their work since the start of the pandemic. With no comprehensive account of how many officers were sickened by the virus, departments from coast to coast reported large outbreaks in the ranks. Vaccinations, which have been shown to be effective in preventing serious illness and death, remain a tough sell for some officials.
In recent months, as local governments began to implement vaccine mandates for workers, some police officers and law enforcement unions pushed back, threatening resignations and legal action.
In October, New York City’s largest police union sued over the city’s vaccine mandate. The Police Benevolent Association of New York said it opposed a vaccine mandate for officers that does not allow for the option of being tested weekly instead of vaccination. A federal judge this week dismissed a lawsuit filed by several Los Angeles police officers who sued over the city’s vaccine mandate.