The number of law enforcement officers who were “feloniously killed” in the line of duty increased 89 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to preliminary statistics released Monday by the FBI.
Fifty-one officers were killed last year, up from the 27 murdered in 2013.
News of the increase comes amid a heated national debate over police safety and police-involved killings.
Two cops were murdered in Hattiesburg, Miss. during a traffic stop over the weekend. And last week, 25-year-old New York City police officer Brian Moore died after being shot while questioning a man in Queens.
Moore was the third NYPD officer killed in five months. In December, officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were murdered by Ismaayil Brinsley while they were sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn. Brinsley, who had a long criminal history, posted to social media about shooting the officers and referred to Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two black men killed in police-involved incidents.
The shooting touched off a heated debate over whether government officials such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder were stoking anti-cop fervor. De Blasio and Holder echoed sentiments from many activists who have called for police reform. Holder has opened investigations into numerous police departments as well as into several high-profile police-involved shootings.
The number of officers killed last year is still below the average for the 35-year period. Sixty-four officers were killed on average each year between 1980 and 2014. The 27 killed in 2013 was the lowest during that period. In 2012, 49 officers were murdered in the line of duty.
While police officers’ unions and other police officials have argued that anti-cop rhetoric has led to an increase of violence against officers, activists have pushed back on that claim by asserting that killings have reached recent historical lows.
According to the FBI’s recent statistics, 11 officers were killed while responding to disturbance calls, 10 were conducting traffic stops or pursuits, eight were ambushed, six were investigating suspicious persons or circumstances, five were performing other investigative activities, four were killed while engaged in tactical situations, three were involved with persons with mental illness, three were slain while attempting an arrest, and one officer was killed during a drug-related matter.
Firearms were used in 46 of the 51 killings, the FBI found. Thirty-two of those incidents involved handguns, 11 involved rifles and three involved shotguns. Four officers were killed with vehicles and one was beaten to death.
Despite the increase in murders, the number of officers who were accidentally killed in the line of duty fell slightly — from 49 in 2013 to 44 last year. Twenty-eight died in automobile accidents, six were killed in motorcycle accidents and five were struck by other vehicles.