WASHINGTON - A record number of fatal traffic incidents and a double-digit spike in shooting deaths led to one of the deadliest years for law-enforcement officers in more than a decade.
With the exception of 2001, which saw a dramatic increase in deaths because of the Sept. 11 attacks, 2007 was the deadliest year for law enforcement since 1989, according to preliminary data released jointly by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and Concerns of Police Survivors.
The report counted the deaths of 186 officers as of Dec. 26, up from 145 last year. Eighty-one died in traffic incidents, which the report said surpassed the record of 78 set in 2000. Shooting deaths increased from 52 to 69, a rise of about 33 percent.
"Most of us don't realize that an officer is being killed in America on average every other day," said Craig W. Floyd, chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Officer fatalities have generally declined since peaking at 277 in 1974, the report said. Historically, officers have been more likely to be killed in an attack than to die accidentally, and shootings outnumbered car crashes. But those trends began to reverse in the late 1990s. This year, about six of every 10 deaths were accidental.
Of the 81 traffic deaths this year, 60 officers died in car crashes, 15 were hit by cars, and six died in motorcycle crashes.
Police departments have worked to limit vehicle chases, and only seven of the car crashes were attributed to such pursuits, Floyd said. Crashes involving a single police cruiser responding to a call were far more common, he said.
After traffic crashes and shootings, physical causes such as heart attacks were the leading cause of death, contributing to 18 fatalities.
Texas led the nation with 22 fatalities followed by Florida (16), New York (12), and California (11).
The only Philadelphia police officer fatally shot in the line of duty this year was Chuck Cassidy, a 25-year police veteran who was killed Oct. 31 during a doughnut-shop robbery in West Oak Lane.
Overall, the report counted six times in which multiple officers were shot and killed in the same incident. Domestic violence and traffic stops were the circumstances that most commonly led to fatal police shootings this year, the report found.