Posted on January 14, 2022

Intentional Killings of Law Enforcement Officers Reach 20-Year High, FBI Says

Emma Tucker and Priya Krishnakumar, CNN, January 13, 2022

Last year saw the highest number of law enforcement officers who were intentionally killed in the line of duty since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an increase that comes as a rise in gun violence and homicides continues across the country.

According to preliminary year-end data provided to CNN by the FBI, 73 officers died in felonious killings in the line of duty in 2021. The year marks the highest total recorded by the agency since 1995, excluding the 9/11 attacks.

Gunfire has consistently been the leading cause of felonious officer deaths each year — and 2021 was no different. The FBI has not released its full end-of-year breakdown but reported that 55 officers were killed by gunfire in 2021 through the end of November, up from 39 in the same time frame in both 2020 and 2019.

Homicides rose in 2020, a year marked by a global pandemic and the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and subsequent unrest. In its 2020 UCR report, the FBI noted that an increasing number of homicides were committed with a gun. For many cities, the elevated rates of homicide continued into 2021.

More than two-thirds of the country’s 40 most populous cities saw more homicides last year than in 2020, according to a CNN analysis of police department data, and 10 of those cities recorded more homicides in 2021 than any other year on record.


Maria Haberfeld, chair of the Department of Law, Police Sciences, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College, who has analyzed data on police deaths in the line of duty, says that a rise in violence against police officers is a phenomenon that happens “every few years” because of an event that serves as a catalyst.

Typically, she said, the uptick is tied to a high-profile case in which an officer or department is accused of misconduct and then that “spills over to all the other police officers around the country.”

The 73 felonious deaths reported by the FBI are a 59% increase from 2020’s total of 46, breaking the previous high of 72 felonious killings in 2011. According to the FBI, at least eight police officers also lost their lives in premeditated, ambush-style attacks last year.

The FBI classifies a death as a “felonious killing” when an officer is “fatally injured as a direct result of a willful and intentional act by an offender.” Separately, 56 officers were killed accidentally while in the line of duty last year, up from 46 in 2020.


Among felonious deaths of officers last year, 25 were killed in “unprovoked” attacks through December 27 of last year, according to the FBI. It’s a marked increase from previous years, which usually see the number of officers killed in unprovoked attacks in the low single-digits. In 2020, just two officers were killed in this manner.


In the wake of protest movements following the killings of Black Americans by police, confidence in US police dropped to record lows, according to a report released by Gallup in August 2020. The polling group reported in 2021 that some of these perceptions have slightly rebounded, but stark racial and partisan divides remain in how Americans view the police. Confidence among both Black and White adults in police remains lower than they were before the killing of Floyd.

Whether there’s a connection between low police confidence and heightened animosity to officer killings is not clear, but Haberfeld says that coverage of anti-police sentiment has been more sustained than in previous years.

“There is an overall climate now that is very anti-police, which adds a different angle to what used to happen periodically to police in the past years,” she told CNN. {snip}