“The number of officers shot and killed in the line of duty last year increased by 56 percent from the year before.”
— President Trump, remarks to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Feb. 8, 2017
This claim jumped out at us for two reasons: Trump has a tendency to exaggerate criminal justice statistics and previously cited an incorrect statistic about police fatalities.
During Trump’s July 2016 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump had claimed that “the number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50 percent compared to this point last year.”
As we wrote at the time, that was inaccurate. The number of law enforcement officers killed on the job had increased 8 percent in July 2016 compared with July 2015. The total number of officers killed in shootings, however, had increased 78 percent. After our fact-check, his campaign reached out to clarify how they measured the data — and we pointed out the weaknesses in their calculation.
So we wondered: Did Trump get the facts right this time? Turns out, he did.
On Feb. 9, Trump signed an executive order to create “new federal crimes, and increase penalties for existing federal crimes, to prevent violence against federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers.”
Statistically, it’s safer to be a police officer today than it was in the 1970s. The number of police fatalities peaked in 1974 with 280 deaths, following nationwide riots in the late 1960s and at the beginning of the crack epidemic. It spiked to 241 officer deaths in 2001, because of the 71 officers who died on 9/11. Experts who track law enforcement fatalities say improvements in training and lifesaving equipment and technology have lowered the overall number of police officers dying in a given year.
The number of officer deaths ebbs and flows by year, but 2016 was notable. The number of officers shot and killed in 2016 was 64, out of 135 total fatalities. That’s an increase of 56 percent from 2015, largely spurred by deadly ambush attacks by gunfire. (We previously explored the facts underlying ambush-style killings and traffic-related deaths of police officers.) [Note: In an earlier version, we incorrectly identified the number of officers shot and killed.]
These figures are based on preliminary data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit group that tracks officer deaths in real time. The final numbers will be released by the end of February.
Two high-profile ambushes unfolded in Dallas and Baton Rouge, both in July 2016. A sniper, specifically looking to kill white officers, killed five in Dallas. That was the deadliest day for police officers since 9/11. Ten days later, a gunman opened fire on police officers in Baton Rouge and killed three.
In 2016, 21 officers died from ambush attacks — more than double the average from the previous decade, according to The Washington Post’s analysis.
The surge in gunfire deaths in 2016 was the largest on record, and the percentage of officers killed by gunfire in 2016 was the highest in more than two decades, The Post found.
Some of the ambushes took place during domestic disturbance calls, which accounted for 14 police deaths in 2016.
“The biggest takeaway [from 2016] is the fact that ambushes spiked up to 21 deaths — a number we hadn’t seen in a number of years,” said Steve Groeninger, spokesman for the memorial fund.
Law enforcement are improving training for situational and spatial awareness to minimize the likelihood of ambushes, especially during domestic disturbance calls, Groeninger said.
“You can’t plan for, ‘When is someone going to surprisingly attack me?’ but you can train for, ‘How can I position and conduct myself in a way that, if someone were to attack me, I can survive it?’” Groeninger said.
The Pinocchio Test
Trump’s grim statistic seemed too remarkable to be correct: The number of officers shot and killed in the line of duty in 2016 increased by 56 percent from the year before.
But the figure is solid. Last year was a notable year in police deaths, largely because of the number of police officers who were fatally shot in ambush attacks across the country. In 2016, 21 officers were killed in ambush attacks — more than double the average from the previous decade. The number of officer deaths by gunfire in 2016 was the largest on record.
Trump previously used officer fatality statistics incorrectly, and we wrote about it. Now, he’s corrected the statistic, using the most recent facts available to describe increases in officer deaths in 2016. We notice when politicians correct their talking point and make an effort to get it right. We commend Trump’s staff for describing this figure accurately in the president’s prepared remarks, and award Trump the rare Geppetto Checkmark.
The Geppetto Checkmark
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