The FBI reported Monday in this year's edition of Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted that 48 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty last year. In contrast to public impressions of the danger of drug law enforcement -- impressions assiduously cultivated by countless law enforcement spokesmen -- none of them were killed while enforcing drug laws.
One officer, Michael Crawshaw of the Penn Hills Police Department in Pennsylvania, was killed responding to a drug-trade murder in which one drug trafficker killed another over a drug debt. Another officer, Dallas Police Senior Corporal Norman Stephen Smith, was killed executing an arrest warrant on a drug dealer, but the warrant was for aggravated assault, not a drug offense. Although both cases probably would not have happened without the existence of drug prohibition, in neither case were the officers killed enforcing drug laws.
According to historical data provided to the Chronicle by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which also compiles statistics on police line of duty deaths, last year's low death toll among officers enforcing the drug laws is not a fluke. In the decade between 1978 and 1988, an average of 6.5 officers were killed each year; in the following decade, the number was 6.2; and in the last 10 years, an average of 4.3 officers were killed each year enforcing the drug laws. The single bloodiest year for drug law enforcement was 1988, when 12 officers died.
In 2008, the number of police who died maintaining drug prohibition was seven; in 2007, it was four; it 2006, it was five; in 2005, it was four. When placed in the context of the more than 1.5 million drug arrests made in each of those years, it is clear that only one in every several hundred thousand drug arrests leads to an officer's death. During the past 10 years, the odds were less than 1 in 350,000.
But while drug law enforcement is not in itself that dangerous for police, certain police tactics raise the risk -- for both law officers and the recipients of their attention. Of the 20 officers killed enforcing the drug laws since 2005, nine were killed in drug raids and five were killed doing undercover work.
Of the 48 officers feloniously killed in the line of duty last year, 15 were ambushed, included four in a mass killing in Washington state, four more in a mass killing in Oakland, and three more in a mass killing in Pittsburgh. Eight were killed in attempting to arrest suspects, eight were killed during traffic stops, six were answering disturbance calls, five were killed in SWAT-style raids, four were investigating suspicious persons or circumstances, and two were working with prisoners.
Forty-five of the 48 slain officers were killed with firearms and three were killed with vehicles used as weapons. Of those slain with firearms, 28 were killed with handguns, 15 with rifles, and two with shotguns.
According to the FBI, another 47 officers were killed in accidents while performing their duties. The majority of them, 34, died in auto accidents. Those numbers are down compared to recent years.