LEO Homicides Committed With Guns From 1965-2014

A recent op-ed by Heather Mac Donald in the Wall Street Journal claimed that homicides of police had increased dramatically from 2013 to 2014. The datum was cited in an article claiming that “Gun violence in particular is spiraling upward in cities across America” noting that homicides of police had increased by 89%. That is factually correct, but is a classic example of how to use statistics — particularly percentages — to mislead . . .

As she points out,

  Murders of officers jumped 89% in 2014, to 51 from 27.

Sources can differ. But the numbers cited are close to those that appear in the Officer Down Memorial Web Page, odmp.org.  The numbers of LEO homicides is, thankfully, extremely small and, as such, can and do vary widely from year to year. You can see from the chart above that the raw numbers of homicides of police committed with firearms rose from 63-64 in the middle 1960’s to 140+ in the early 1970’s, then gradually dropping down to the present numbers of about 47 per year. Before last year’s uptick, 2013 was the lowest number of law officer homicides committed with firearms since 1887.

You might wonder if the total homicides (by all means, not just firearms) of law enforcement officers changes the trend. The total is, of course, higher when the number of officers killed by various means including bombs, knives, and in vehicular assaults are added.  But while those methods raise the overall numbers, the shape of the graph remains very similar, showing an continuing overall decline in LEO deaths since 1970.

The spike in 2001 is due to the number of New York City officers killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Interestingly, from the peak period of officers murdered in 1973 through 2012, we seem to have established a “new normal.” Coinciding with that sustained decline in LEOs murdered, the numbers of firearms owned in the United States has increased from 128 million to 347 million. So while homicides of law enforcement officers have fallen by close to two thirds, the stock of privately owned firearms increased by 171%…a percentage increase large enough to be statistically meaningful, unlike the one Ms. Mac Donald cites.

So the number of firearms in circulation has a negative correlation with number of officer homicides by firearms. It’s unlikely that there is any causal effect. One explanation is that the number of people who are willing to murder police officers is so small that it takes very few firearms to fill their desires. That demand can be met by a statistically insignificant number of stolen or illegally purchased guns. If the bucket (demand) is small, it matters little if you fill it at a small pond or at the ocean. It is easily filled in either case.

©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

Gun Watch


  1. avatar JJVP says:

    “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
    – Mark Twain

    1. avatar Jeremy S says:

      There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count, and those who can’t.

      There are two kinds of countries in the world: those that use the metric system, and those that have landed on the moon.

      …okay seriously though, this is a great article. It would be nice to see 0 officers killed, but even when it was much worse than the last couple decades the leading cause of on-the-job officer death was still vehicular accidents… Buckle up, guys.

      1. avatar John L. says:

        Ah, buckle this! Ludicru…

        Oh, never mind.

        1. avatar Jason says:

          What have I done?!

          My brains are going into my feet!

      2. avatar MeRp says:

        It has to be: those that use the metric system and those that have landed people on the moon; while you could discount the Soviet Union as a country (since it no longer exists as such), China has also landed on the moon, and still exists, and uses the metric system.

        1. avatar Ing says:

          Have they put people on the moon? There have been plenty of moon landings, but I’m pretty sure we’re the only country that has actually put boots on the ground up there.

        2. avatar JasonM says:

          And both Liberia and Myanmar neither use the metric system, nor have any sort of space program.

          And of course, the agency responsible for putting people on the moon, NASA, converted fully to the metric system decades ago.

        3. avatar Geoff PR says:

          “Have they put people on the moon? ”

          There’s no firm decision on that yet, they’ll probably take a few years and learn how operate in low earth orbit first.

          China wants desperately to be viewed technologically competent. Given time they’ll eventually get there.

          It kinda pisses me off that China stands a good chance of building a moon base before we do.

      3. avatar Grindstone says:

        Don’t forget the runner-up: heart attacks.

      4. avatar JasonM says:

        You forgot this one:
        There are 10 types of people: those who understand binary, and those who do not.

      5. avatar Former Water Walker says:

        The rumor is the Russians crash landed on the moon. So why aren’t we headed there for weekends NOW? And where’s my flying car? They used less computing power in 1969 than my freaking cell phone…and if you believe all these statistics you are mighty gullible…

    2. avatar Don says:

      Adjust those charts to reflect the change in population and it’s a much bigger drop.

  2. avatar mk10108 says:

    It is not enough that there are 347 million guns in this country. Those guns must be available and used by individuals to publicly lawfully self protect. Otherwise they are machined metal in private home. Its the only action that will significantly lower crime further.

    1. avatar actionphysicalman says:

      There are gun ownership and carry gaps that need to be filled.

  3. avatar TTACer says:

    Also “shall issue” has gone up enormously. I think we can safely conclude that shall issue and widespread firearm ownership saves officers’ (and children’s, won’t somebody please think of the children!?) lives.

    1. And did you see that while cop deaths by shooting are down, homicides by cops are up? Coincidence?

    2. Good site. The data is pretty much the same, but it is extended back to 1900.

    3. avatar MarkPA says:

      The chart from 1900 – 2013 is really worth looking at. Some of the patterns are really strange.

      The rise during the first 2/3 of Prohibition are entirely explainable. Cop-kills rose in a time of prosperity (Roaring 20’s). Then, in the last few years of Prohibition turned-around and went down!

      Throughout the Great Depression the figures were on a fast-slide downward. The down-trend was perfectly well established when the NFA`34 was debated.

      The 2-decade long flat-line during WW-II and the return to “peace” (Korea notwithstanding) is interesting. Is this the “old-normal”?

      Then, the climb in the 1960’s (Viet Nam War and the revolt against authority figures). What does this say about the relationship between politics of the era and cop-killing?

      End of the Viet Nam War and figures suddenly plummet again.

      This chart represents raw counts of incidents. It needs to be normalized to rates: per-capita population; per-capita males 16 – 24; per-capita of total law enforcement officers; . . .

      Do cops cause cop-kills? I.e., the more cop-targets the more cops will be killed? Can society afford the trade-off; i.e., do we buy disproportionate violent crime reduction by increasing the number of cops?

      To what extent can we attribute any drop in cop-killings to improved training (whether in police academies or OJT)? Could it be that cops today are much better at defending themselves because of innovations in policing techniques?

      What might the relationship be between these innovations in policing techniques and cop killings of civilians; particularly civilians who weren’t actually attacking cops?

  4. avatar Jim Barrett says:

    I’d be interested in seeing a similar trend of “officer committed homicides” over the past half century. Are cops killing more, less, or the roughly the same number of people today versus other points in history?

    1. That is not easy data to come by. You can look at “Deaths by legal Intervention”, but I suspect that many are simply not reported in any national data base.

  5. avatar Waco Biker says:

    So, all killings of police is “homicide”, even in self-defense (which would be most of the time). But when cops murder people, it’s always justified unless there’s a brave bystander with a phone camera.

    1. avatar Jeremy S says:

      The intent of the graphs likely is “murder” of police officers, but if you want to be pedantic about it…by saying “homicide” then it doesn’t matter if it’s justified self defense or not. Killing another person = homicide. If you do it in 100% legal, fully-justified, legitimate self defense then it’s “justifiable homicide,” but it’s still homicide.

      1. avatar Waco Biker says:

        God forbid people use clear language without pro-government bias. Is there ever the use of a pejorative “civilian killer”, even as politicians and their gangster enforcers wail about “cop killers”?

        Meanwhile, statistics of people killed by cops isn’t even legally required and grossly under-reported. Some people are just more equal than others.

  6. avatar Ray says:

    Heather can suck it in Macy’s window.

  7. avatar raptureRaptor says:

    I would like to see statics regarding LEO killing citizens (whether justified or not) to see how it correlates with this. Would be incredible interesting if the LEO killing of citizens followed the same trend. Especially considering the uptick of “murdering unarmed innocent children” articles, videos and coverage.

  8. avatar Drew says:

    there is an important normalization that is not occuring. this is a raw number of officers killed. you want to look at percent of officers killed. the number of officers today is significantly higher than 100 years ago. or even 20 years ago.

    the percent will show an even further steep decline in the trend of officers dying by homocide.

    alternatively, heather macdonald could get her wish of zero officer deaths if we had no officers.

  9. avatar Steven Clark says:

    I’m sure the intentional race-relation challenges to policy authority the last year have contributed greatly.

  10. avatar CTsheepdog says:

    Dean, Dave Grossman would tell you that looking at LEO death si only part of the picture. He argues in his lectures that you have to look at firearm deaths as well as survived shootings. That is, ubiquitous body armor and better emergency treatment of GSWs makes surviving being a LEO target of a shooting much more likely. By his view, the TOTAL of LEO gunshot deaths and survived shooting incidents is actually not declining as much as a view of deaths alone might suggest. I can’t recall if the total is rising or not however.

    1. avatar Waco Biker says:

      On the flip side, cops are shooting people then letting them bleed out by refusing to allow paramedics access to their victims (e.g. Jose Guerena). Then the cops go their merry way without reporting their crime.

      Government privilege sure is grand.

    2. avatar MarkPA says:

      “. . . as well as survived shootings.”

      Depends on what you are actually trying to get at. If we were studying gun shot accidents I’d agree. It is only the grace of God that separates an accidental gun-shot death from a gun-shot wound. How many accidental gun-shots are there? And, how many actually hit a human. These would be the two things to study to try to reduce accidents or assess whether accidents are worth reducing.

      Conversely, suppose we were trying to determine whether to do more to reduce industrial workers’ risk of dropping heavy objects on their toes. Should we count visits to podiatrists? Or, number of dropped objects? Having already solved most of the problem with steel-toed boots, we really shouldn’t be counting the number of dropped objects.

      Generally, we are trying to judge the risk-of-death by gun-shot that cops endure. Some other objective might be perfectly worthy of investigation such as the frequency of cops being assaulted by guns. If it’s risk-of-death we count deaths – and, possibly, wounds that bypass body armor. If it’s frequency of assaults we count bullets stopped by body armor.

      1. avatar CTSheepdog says:

        MarkPA – Grossman’s point it that the world is not getting safer for LEOs if all you are looking at is officers killed by gunfire in the line of duty. His point, is that lives are being saved in today’s environment by armor and better EMT/Emergency treatment of GSW. His point, cops are being shot at the same rate (if not higher) than in the past, they are just not succumbing to wounds as frequently a decade or more ago.

        I deal with numbers and I have trouble when data over long periods of time are compared, even if there are changes to the circumstances over that period. To look at non-accidental/suicide LEO gun-deaths alone does, as you point out, only look such gun deaths. But if that statistic is then turned around to suggest that LEOs are under lower risk of being shot, then that is wrong. Hence my (and Grossman’s) suggestion that you must look at deaths and non-fatal, non-accidental, non-suicide shootings as well.

        1. avatar MarkPA says:

          Thank you for elaborating; I learned a bit more from what you wrote.

          My opening point is that it depends upon what you are looking for. Do you want to know about the probability of being shot-at? Or, the probability of being killed?

          I absolutely believe that the probability of being shot-at is the important metric if we are studying the risk of accidents. Children or any other bystanders are not wearing body armor. We had better count woundings as well as killings because both indicate an acute threat to human life. It would be great if we had data on NGs that didn’t hit a person; but that isn’t available.

          If the metric is the risk of getting shot then you count the woundings and the rounds that were stopped by vests. However, that’s not necessarily the metric that one ought to be thinking of. It really depends on what the student/reader/researcher is trying to get after. If we are trying to get at the comparative risk of death from being a fisherman, woodsman, policeman, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief then we have to admit that all these guys have safety precautions that reduce the hazards of their respective occupations. It’s safer to be a cop in the 21st century than it was in the 20th and that was safer than being a cop in the 19th century. I suspect that comparable improvements in safety have not been achieved by fishermen or woodsmen.

        2. avatar Jarhead1982 says:

          FBI UCR

          Table 70

          Law Enforcement Officers Assaulted
          Type of Weapon and Percent Injured, 2002–2013
          Year Total Firearm Knife Other

          2002 59,526 1,927 1,061 8,526 48,012
          2003 58,600 1,879 1,084 8,180 47,457
          2004 59,692 2,114 1,123 8,645 47,810
          2005 57,820 2,157 1,059 8,379 46,225
          2006 59,396 2,290 1,055 8,611 47,440
          2007 61,257 2,216 1,028 8,692 49,321
          2008 61,087 2,292 958 8,466 49,371
          2009 58,364 2,007 886 7,966 47,505
          2010 56,491 1,925 918 7,413 46,235
          2011 54,774 2,208 997 7,808 43,761
          2012 52,901 2,259 893 7,341 42,408
          2013 49,851 2,266 881 6,919 39,785

        3. avatar MarkPA says:

          Yes, I understood that from the outset. Couldn’t have been clearer. Lives are being saved (presumably by training and vests). So, the job is getting safer notwithstanding that attacks are increasing.

          I noticed the table has 5 data columns (plus the year key) but only 4 headings (Total, Firearm Knife and Other). What does the 5’th data column represent?

        4. avatar Jarhead1982 says:

          The delta after removing injuries by weapons

        5. avatar Jarhead1982 says:

          Also don’t see an increase as in order to claim that you would have to get data from all 19,335 police agencies in the U.S. The data above reflects 11,000 or less

  11. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    That graph would be even more dramatic if it was law enforcement officer homicides per capita. Not only have homicides decreased by a factor of three since 1970 or so, but the population has nearly doubled since then. This represents something like a six-times decrease in per capita homicides of law enforcement officers. Saying somewhat less awkwardly, per capita homicides of law enforcement officers is 1/6th what it was in 1970 … and firearms in private hands has roughly doubled over the same timeframe!

  12. avatar BDub says:

    “2013 was the lowest number of law officer homicides committed with firearms since 1887”

    So what your telling me, is that LEO Homicides are back down to Wild Wild West levels? LOL!!! I love watching an Anti-gun trope get kicked in the face!

  13. avatar Mike the Limey says:

    Heather MacDonald’s deliberate abuse of the statistics is just one more example of how the gun grabbing socialists will stop at nothing in their intent to disarm, then dominate the citizens of the US.
    These people are devious, dangerous & ultimately destructive.

  14. avatar CTsheepdog says:

    Jarhead, thanks for the data, though it looked much better In the email notification than it does above due to it being scrunched. I will try to paste below to see if that is better.

    Clearly a variable data set with ups and downs. Recent trends is upward.

    Table 70
    Law Enforcement Officers Assaulted
    Type of Weapon and Percent Injured, 2002–2013
    Year. Total. Firearm Knife. Other
    2002 59,526 1,927 1,061 8,526 48,012
    2003 58,600 1,879 1,084 8,180 47,457
    2004 59,692 2,114 1,123 8,645 47,810
    2005 57,820 2,157 1,059 8,379 46,225
    2006 59,396 2,290 1,055 8,611 47,440
    2007 61,257 2,216 1,028 8,692 49,321
    2008 61,087 2,292 958 8,466 49,371
    2009 58,364 2,007 886 7,966 47,505
    2010 56,491 1,925 918 7,413 46,235
    2011 54,774 2,208 997 7,808 43,761
    2012 52,901 2,259 893 7,341 42,408
    2013 49,851 2,266 881 6,919 39,785

    1. avatar CTsheepdog says:

      MarkPA, as I noted, I cut and paste the data posted by Jarhead and it looks like that header was dropped. You can find the source table at the link below, along with a plethora of additional data cuts and cross-tabs. That column is for “Personal Weapons”.


  15. avatar Jarhead1982 says:

    Lost the data on how many agencies reported for that summary total. Also looking for the % of officers in those reporting against national total for a better perspective

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