This year will go down in the record books as one of the safest for police officers in recorded history, according to data released this week from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. There were 42 fatal shootings of police officers in 2015, down 14 percent from 2014, according to the organization.
Overall, 124 officers were killed in the line of duty this year. More than one third of those deaths were due to traffic accidents, the largest single cause of officer fatalities. Thirty other officers died of a variety of other causes, including job-related illnesses.
The memorial fund’s numbers square with figures put together earlier this week by Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute, who found that “this year (2015) is on track to be the second-safest year for U.S. police officers in history (0.1112 gun-related police deaths per 1 million population), second only to a slightly safer year in 2013 (0.097 deaths per 1 million).”
But they contrast sharply with a narrative about a “war on cops” in the wake of demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere in protest of fatal shootings by police. The narrative has been especially popular among Republican presidential contenders: In September, Chris Christie blamed the Obama administration for “police officers that are being hunted.” In October, Mike Huckabee claimed that a “war on cops” was responsible for a “surge in crime” across the country. In November, Ted Cruz held a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing he called “The War on Police” and blamed the Obama administration for creating “a culture where the men and women of law enforcement feel under siege.”
Even though it’s squarely at odds with the facts, this rhetoric has an effect: A Rasmussen poll in September found that 58 percent of Americans said that there’s a war on police in the United States today.
The 2015 data show that traffic accidents are a greater danger to police officers’ safety than shootings are. “Move over and slow down when you see an emergency vehicle on the side of the roadway,” the memorial fund’s chairman told NPR this week. “Eleven officers this year were struck and killed by motorists who did not slow down, who did not move over.”
All 50 states already have laws in place requiring motorists to move over for emergency vehicles.