Firearms and traffic accidents, the main causes of police deaths in the USA

Between 2010 and 2016, over 1,000 police officers died in the USA on duty or because of being police officers. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Found has carried out, with financial support from the Department of Justice, the study Making It Safer: A Study of Law Enforcement Fatalities Between 2010-2016, of 1,016 police deaths in these circumstances, with the aim of offering security advice in order to prevent and avoid such fatal outcomes.

The study analyses these cases and offers advice to act safely or take protective measures from different perspectives:

  • The main noteworthy causes of the death of an agent involve firearms and traffic accidents.
  • The type of service that led to the death (responding to a request, ex-officio action, patrolling tasks), in a training context or even in off duty contexts.
  • If the officers affected were taking some nature of security measure, especially if they were wearing a bullet-proof vest in the case of firearm deaths or a knife attack, or if they were wearing a seat belt in the case of a traffic accident.

Deaths due to firearms during this period amounted to 376. The last year, 2016, was the second worst, with 66 officers killed, just under the 73 killed in 2011; moreover, it means an increase of 53% compared with the previous year, 2015, when there were 43. Investigators associate part of this increase with the higher number of ambushes of police officers, in some cases they were even off duty.

A good proportion of officer deaths are related to vehicles and traffic: 247 deaths because of car accidents and 45 because of motorcycle accidents. Investigators propose that all officers wear a seat belt, because in 2016 52% of the officers who died in traffic accidents were not wearing a seat belt.

Finally, the report analyses 550 cases of officers who died because of a firearm fired by a police officer, in this case over a much greater period (cases date back to 1856). The following are particularly noteworthy:

  • 139 are accidents involving officers shooting themselves (without any intention of committing suicide);
  • 105 were officers mistakenly identified as criminals by other police officers;
  • 46 officers died during training exercises.
  • 14 were cases of cross fire.

The same organisation drew up the previous report Deadly Calls and Fatal Encounters. Analysis of U.S. law enforcement line of duty deaths when officers responded to dispatched calls for service and conducted enforcment (2010-2014)


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