Last year was the deadliest year on record for police in the U.S., according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. The leading cause of death was COVID-19, the group’s newly released Law Enforcement Officers Fatalities Report said.
The report found 301 officers died from COVID-19 in 2021, a 65% increase from the year before. Seven states — California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — had more than seven officer deaths due to COVID-19.
Georgia’s Muscogee County Sheriff Gregory Countryman told CBS News that the virus continues to spread through his department and that he currently has 18 active cases. Barely more than 40% of the county’s residents have been vaccinated.
“Not only are we fighting with the criminals, we’re also fighting with this virus that’s out there,” he said.
Because the report is based on preliminary data, it’s possible the number of COVID-related deaths in 2021 could still increase, the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund said.
But COVID-19 isn’t the only reason 2021 was the deadliest year on record for officers.
Sixty-one officers were killed in the line of duty by firearms, a 36% increase from 2020, the report said. Fifty-eight officers were killed in traffic-related accidents, a 38% jump over the year before.
Former Connecticut state trooper Troy Anderson told CBS News that the number of officer deaths in the line of duty deserves more attention.
“The numbers, quite frankly, are staggering,” he said.