Last year, when the FBI released its annual report on the number of domestic police officers killed by perpetrators in the line of duty, The New York Times declared the emergence of a "disturbing trend." While 56 officers had been intentionally killed in 2010, 72 were killed in 2011. This was an even more troubling increase over 2008, a 10-year low in which only 41 officers were killed.
But if it was truly a troubling trend, the numbers would need to keep going up. Luckily, they haven't. Forty-eight police officers were killed in 2012, according to Monday's annual FBI report on law enforcement deaths. How does 48 stack up? In the last 13 years, only 2008 and 1999 saw fewer intentional law enforcement deaths.
The chart below, which uses data from FBI reports dating back to 1996, suggests that the far more interesting (and under-covered) big-picture trend is that accidental law enforcement deaths are on the decline, with 2009 and 2012 representing the lowest occurrences in nearly two decades (note: the spike in 2001 is due to 9/11).
For a larger context in which to place 2012, consider the introduction to the FBI's 1996 report [PDF]: "The welcome news in 1996 was that totals for officers feloniously and accidentally killed were the lowest in over 20 years." Combining accidental and felonious deaths, exactly 100 officers died that year; five more than died in 2009 and 2012.
Year-over-year, 2013 has so far seen 9 percent fewer law enforcement fatalities than this time in 2012, according to the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. No evidence here of the "disturbing trend" the Times—and law enforcement groups—were worried 2011's numbers indicated.
The 2012 report does contain some bad news: The fact that five police officers were feloniously killed in Puerto Rico, more than in any other state, is another worrisome sign that drug trafficking and its attendant violence is shifting back to the Caribbean from Mexico and Central America.
Top image: A police honor guard carries the casket of slain Indianapolis police officer Rod Bradway during a funeral service Sept. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)