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The FBI on Tuesday released new data on police use of force against civilians in 2021.
The agency also recently released additional details on the 73 officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2021 — nearly half of whom did not engage with their assailants before being attacked.
More than 8,000 agencies reported use-of-force data in 2021 — a 10% increase compared to 2020. So far this year, 6,773 agencies have submitted use-of-force data to the FBI.
Last year, more than half of use-of-force incidents submitted to the FBI resulted in serious bodily injury of a person, more than 33% caused the death of a person, and 17% involved the discharge of a firearm at or in the direction of a person, according to the bureau.
Of the use-of-force incidents, nearly 57% involved officers responding to unlawful or suspicious activities, 11% stemmed from traffic stops, 10% resulted from search warrants or court order services, nearly 8% came from welfare checks, 3% were the result of routine patrols, nearly 3% involved follow-up investigations, and about 7% were unknown “and unlikely to ever be known,” according to the FBI.
“In use-of-force incidents, officers most often encountered individuals who failed to comply with verbal commands or other types of passive resistance,” the FBI said in a Tuesday press release. “Other types of resistance encountered included displaying a weapon at an officer or another individual, attempting to escape or flee custody, using a firearm against an officer or another individual, or resisting being handcuffed or arrested.”
More than 1,100 civilians were killed by police officers in 2021, according to Mapping Police Violence, which tracks individuals killed by officers across the U.S.
The number of officers feloniously killed last year represents a 20-year high as murder rates in major U.S. cities reached similar records. The FBI defines a felonious killing as an incident “in which an officer, while engaged in or on account of the performance of their official duties, was fatally injured as a direct result of a willful and intentional act by an offender.”
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Updated information released by the FBI on May 9, however, hones in on more specifics and demographics for those officers attacked last year.
The average age of the officers feloniously killed in 2021 was 39, and the average length of service with a law enforcement agency was 12 years. Of those who died, 68 were male and five were female. Sixty victims were white, and nine were Black. Race was not reported for four victims, FBI data shows.
Of the 73 officers the FBI counted, 24 were killed in unprovoked attacks, meaning the fatal attacks came out of nowhere, or with no prior warning.
“We have got to do a better job in this profession, and we need to help from the community to get to a better job of fighting the false narrative that police officers are roaming the streets, murdering our citizens, murdering unarmed black men, all that,” Betsy Brantner Smith, spokesperson for the National Police Association and a 29-year police veteran who currently trains officers, told WHD News Digital.
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She added that “one of the reasons that we’re seeing this huge uptick in officer ambushes, unprovoked attacks, is because there is this pervasive false information in the media, by activists, by some politicians, that police officers are a danger to the community.” That, she said, is one of the “biggest, most ignored officer safety components in this country right now.”
In one example of an officer killed in an unprovoked attack last year, 39-year-old Baltimore Police Department Officer Keona Holley was shot in the head in December 1:35 a.m. while parked in her police vehicle during an overnight shift in the high-crime area of Curtis Bay. She left behind four children.
Of the remaining 73 officers who were not killed in unprovoked attacks, nine died as a result of investigative law enforcement activities — four that involved surveillance, two that involved traffic stops, one that responded to an active shooter, one involved in an undercover investigation and another investigating a wanted person.
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Eight officers were ambushed after being entrapped or at the receiving end of a premeditated attack. Eight were involved in vehicular or foot pursuits. Seven were responding to disturbances. Six were involved in tactical situations. Four were involved in arrests. Two were responding to active crimes, including an active shooter and an assault.
The remaining officers were killed by assisting law enforcement officers, attempting to serve a court order, responding to a report of a crime, or deploying equipment. One officer was out of service, according to the FBI.
Most (61) of those killed were shot with firearms, the majority of which were handguns. The type of firearm used was not reported in 31 instances. Seven officers fired their weapons, and four attempted to fire their weapons before being killed. Thirty of the 73 officers were wearing body armor.
Sixty-six offenders identified in connection to the 73 felonious officer deaths had an average age of 31. The majority (53) were male. Twenty offenders were White and 11 were Black, though race was not listed for 35 offenders, the FBI data shows.
Nine alleged offenders were “under judicial supervision” at the time of the attacks, and 20 were listed as prior offenders.
“We have seen this time and time and time and time again — people with these long rap sheets, and we’re seeing it in the killings and the attacks on law enforcement officers,” Brantner-Smith said of the data. “They either don’t go to jail or they don’t stay in jail.”
Questions after Floyd, Uvalde
A distrust in law enforcement and outcry for more police accountability has followed agencies since the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd at the hands of ex-Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin. Since then, many states and local jurisdictions have implemented measures to strengthen accountability, improve transparency and reduce the number of officer-involved shootings and use-of-force incidents.
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At the time, left and right-leaning politicians generally disagreed over measures that included drastically decreasing police budgets in an effort to reduce these issues.
Two years later, elected officials on both sides of the political aisle recently expressed a sense of distrust in officers following what some have criticized as a bungled response to the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 fourth-grade students and two teachers dead following reports that officers waited about 40 minutes to enter the school building since the first 911 call was placed.
Reports also alleged that officers tased and arrested parents waiting outside Robb Elementary as they demanded to get their children out of the building. Eventually, federal law enforcement officers made the call to enter the school and shoot the gunman, according to Texas authorities.
“As more information comes out, it becomes worse and worse what those parents had to endure that day, and in all the years ahead when they think about it … is beyond my words to express,” former FBI criminal profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole told WHD News Digital.
She continued: “It is a parent’s natural reaction to save their child — no matter what. That day those parents were prevented from acting in a way that any parent would save their child at the risk of their own lives. … The parents’ inability to get to their kids that morning, will haunt them forever.”
O’Toole called the Uvalde Police Department’s response to the scene “extremely concerning and baffling.”
“I try and understand how anyone can stand outside that classroom and listen to those little children who might have been crying and begging for help, and in my mind, there is nothing that could have been more important than getting in there ASAP and getting those children out of there and stopping the shooter,” she said.
O’Toole added, however, that this is not a matter of the public’s general trust in law enforcement but the lack of leadership and direction in a particular agency.
Brantner Smith noted that there “is still so much we do not know” about the shooting.
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“What we do know is that the shooter was an incredibly disturbed 18-year-old who was known to threaten teen girls with violent sexual assault, was very vocal about shooting up a school, had dropped out of high school after nearly a year of COVID isolation, and was videotaped laughing with a bag of bloody pet cats. This young man should have been well known to law enforcement and to the community; the ongoing investigation should reveal just how well known he was,” she said.
“[W]hatever mistakes were made, we urge our politicians, our media and our citizens not to condemn an entire profession for the actions of one man,” she added.
WHD News’ Andrew Mark Miller contributed to this report.