This year was shaping up to be a pretty safe year for those in blue—at least from a statistical standpoint.
Traffic-related deaths were down and even gunshots claimed fewer police lives than just several years back. Half a year was already gone and 2016 was on its way to become one of law enforcement’s safest years on record.
Then came July.
On July 7, Micah Johnson ambushed a group of police officers in Dallas, killing five of them. Ten days later, Gavin Long attacked police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, killing three.
Two weeks were enough to dent a safety trend decades in the making. Meanwhile, the shootings hinted at a new trend—an ugly one.
In recent years, policing in America had become a safer job than ever, data shows.
More than 100 police officers a year still lost their lives, which was much the same as in the 1940s or 1950s.
But back then, officers policed less than half the population there is today.
The safest year in centuries for police was 2013. One officer died for every 2.9 million Americans. One officer was shot dead for every 9.5 million.
Compare that to the 1990s, when one officer died for every 1.6 million Americans and one was shot for every 4 million.
After 2013, the number of deaths increased, but the trend was still heading in the right direction and had been so since at least the late 1990s.
After Baton Rouge, that trend hit a wall.
On July 27, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit clearinghouse for law enforcement fatalities, published a special report in response to the shootings.
The shooting deaths of officers were up 78 percent from 2015, looking at data from January 1 to July 20 for both years.
Looking more closely at the data, a disturbing trend can be seen.
As of July 20, 14 police officers have been killed in ambushes this year.
Since 2000, there have only been three other years in which as many officers lost their lives in ambushes—15 in 2012, 16 in 2014, and 14 in 2015.
This year’s numbers are “very troubling,” said Steve Groeninger, the Memorial Fund’s communications director.
There was a series of ambushes on police in the early months of 2016. Then, for a few months, nothing. And then Dallas.
While civil rights activists have called for the demilitarization of police, the attacks pushed the pendulum the other way.
New York City is spending $7.5 million to equip its officers with military-grade helmets and extra-thick bulletproof vests able to stop assault rifle rounds, such as those that killed their colleagues in Baton Rouge.
Last year, police were banned from using some military equipment and forced to return more than 120 tracked armored vehicles and over 130 grenade launchers (grenade launchers can also be used to shoot nonlethal projectiles), according to a report by Reuters.
Now police want the gear back, and President Barack Obama has agreed to review the ban, national police organization leaders told Reuters.
Five Months to Go
As July ends and the final five months of the year begin, it’s still too early to predict how the year will end for the men and women in blue.