He remembered several officers who had died, including Honolulu Officer Tiffany-Victoria Enriquez, the first woman on that force to die in the line of duty, and an officer who contracted cancer after helping recovery efforts at the site of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. And then he made another striking point.
“Tragically, in the past two years,” he said, “covid-19 has caused more deaths in the line of duty than all the other causes combined.”
That is true. The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) tallies the deaths of law enforcement officers in the line of duty each year and has counted nearly 500 deaths from the disease caused by the coronavirus. That’s not just more than other causes of death combined, it’s more than all other deaths for the past three years.
In fact, it’s more deaths than have been linked to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. ODMP has counted 398 deaths linked to those attacks both directly and from related illness — nearly 100 fewer than have died of covid.
In part because covid disproportionately kills older Americans, the past two calendar years have for the first time in decades seen more deaths among officers ages 50 and over than among those who are younger.
The average age of those who died in the line of duty has been trending upward for the past few decades, likely due to the aging of the labor force in general. In 2020, though, that average age was 49, the highest in the past 20 years.
The pandemic has taken a significant toll on law enforcement nationally. Nearly as many officers have died of covid as were killed feloniously since the end of 2016. Yet while there are regular calls for improvements aimed at protecting police officers from assault while on the job, there’s also been hostility from officers and officer organizations targeting coronavirus vaccination mandates. In New York City, only about two-thirds of officers and staff are vaccinated, a lower rate than the city overall.
“Let us prevent the preventable tragedies,” Biden said on Saturday. It’s not clear if his intended audience was listening.