When Sonny Kim was growing up, there was little doubt about what career he would eventually choose.
“Growing up with Sonny, I grew up with a police officer,” Mickey Kim, his brother, said at his funeral last week in Cincinnati. “He became a police officer when he was 21, but he was always a police officer.”
Kim did not come from a family of police officers, his brother said. But while other children — Mickey included — grew up dreaming of becoming an astronaut or playing baseball, Sonny Kim had “tunnel vision” of wanting to be a police officer, his brother recalled.
“He was so proud to wear that uniform,” Mickey Kim said. “He was so proud to be a part of that fraternity.”
Kim, 48, an officer with the Cincinnati Police Department, was shot and killed June 19 in an exchange of gunfire with a suspect who had called 911 to summon officers, according to police officials.
He was one of 16 police officers shot and killed in the line of duty by a suspect over the first six months of the year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a nonprofit organization that tracks all line-of-duty fatalities.
A day after Kim was killed, Daryle Holloway, 45, a New Orleans police officer, was shot and killed while driving someone to a city jail. Police identified the person being transported as Travis Boys, 33, and authorities said he managed to shoot Holloway during the trip. Boys was arrested after a two-day manhunt.
Holloway is the most recent officer killed this year. The number of officers shot and killed by suspects over the first half of 2015 is down from the 23 officers killed over the same period last year, according to records kept by the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Some, like Kim, were shot and killed while responding to 911 calls. Terence Green, a Fulton County, Ga., police detective and the first officer to be fatally shot this year, was searching a neighborhood after a report of gunfire March 4, police say, when Amanuel Menghesha shot him.
Others were serving arrest warrants when the suspect in question opened fire. Kerrie Orozco, an Omaha police officer, was shot and killed while she and other officers were serving an arrest warrant in a different shooting. Orozco, 29, was hours away from beginning maternity leave when she was killed.
Overall, though, statistics suggest that being a police officer has gotten much safer over the past few decades. While the FBI reported this year that the number of officers killed in the line of duty nearly doubled last year over the year before — rising to 51 — that number still dramatically falls below what the country saw in previous decades.
About 50 police officers have been fatally shot on average each year over the past decade, and that number has fallen by more than half since the 1970s, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. In addition, federal statistics show that the uptick in 2014 came after a year with the fewest officers killed in the line of duty (27) in any year since 1980.
Still, interviews this year with current and retired law enforcement officers, as well as their family members, show that the sustained protests over deaths at the hands of police have left many officers feeling assailed.
“If you imagine someone with a cellphone recording every moment … it’s tough,” said Don Costa, 58, who spent two decades as a detective in Waterbury, Conn. “Are you going to make that one slip? It’s very difficult.”
Some officers pointed to the rise in ambush attacks — like the two Las Vegas police officers gunned down while eating lunch last year — as a particularly worrisome trend. Others pointed to the dangers they may be called to without realizing it.
Kim was killed after responding to reports of a person with a gun acting erratically in the city’s Madisonville neighborhood, the police department said. Both Kim and the suspect were shot and taken to a nearby hospital, and they both later died.
Police later identified the suspect as Trepierre Hummons, 21, and said that Hummons had been the person to call 911 multiple times. Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said that based on social media and text messages, it looked like Hummons “was planning suicide by cop,” making him one of the 123 people shot and killed so far this year during what appeared to be a mental or emotional crisis.
“He had a loving heart, so I just don’t understand how this happened,” Hummons’s father wrote in an op-ed published by the Cincinnati Enquirer.
With the dangers police still face, even with fewer deaths, the overall protest movement focusing so much on deaths at the hands of police creates “a sad situation,” said Sgt. Ron Hart, an officer at Ithaca College.
“It’s in the back of your mind,” Hart said, noting that police often encounter people during a bad time in their lives. “But you can’t dwell on that kind of thing.”