Crime & Courts

Law officer deaths lowest since '59

WASHINGTON — Law enforcement deaths this year dropped to their lowest level since 1959, while the decade of the 2000s was among the safest for officers — despite the deadliest single day for police on Sept. 11, 2001.

The drop in deaths, cited in a police group's report Monday, was tempered by an increase in firearm deaths. In one November shooting, four officers were executed as they discussed their upcoming shift in a Lakewood, Wash., coffee shop.

Through Dec. 27, the report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found:

* 124 officers were killed this year, compared to 133 in 2008. The 2009 total represents the fewest line-of-duty deaths since 108 a half-century ago.

* Thirty-five states and Puerto Rico had officer fatalities in 2009.

They included Sedgwick County Deputy Brian Etheridge, 26, who was fatally shot Sept. 28 outside a house on South Rock Road across from McConnell Air Force Base.

Authorities said the gunman, Richard Lyons, hid in the backyard and opened fire after using a fake theft report to lure an officer. Lyons was shot to death that evening in an exchange of gunfire with other officers.

* Traffic fatalities fell to 56, compared to 71 a year ago. The report said the decline was partly attributed to "move over" state laws, which require motorists to change lanes to give officers clearance on the side of a road.

* Firearms deaths rose to 48, nine more than in 2008. However, the 39 fatalities in 2008 represented the lowest annual figure in more than five decades.

* An average of 162 officers a year died in the 2000s, compared with 160 in the 1990s, 190 in the 1980s and 228 in the 1970s — the deadliest decade for U.S. law enforcement.

"To reach a 50-year low in officer deaths is a real credit to the law enforcement profession and its commitment to providing the best possible training and equipment to our officers," said the Memorial Fund chairman and chief executive officer, Craig Floyd.

Fifteen deaths occurred in five incidents during the year, showing the potential danger in domestic disturbances, traffic stops and serving arrest warrants.

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