WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In-the-line-of-duty deaths of law enforcement officers jumped 13% in 2011 compared to last year, according to preliminary figures released Wednesday by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
A total of 173 federal, state and local officers have been killed in the United States, and the year is not quite over yet.
Gunfire accounted for the largest number of deaths, claiming 68 officers. That represents a 15% increase from 2010.
"This is a devastating and unacceptable trend," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a written statement.
"Each of these deaths is a tragic reminder of the threats that law enforcement officers face each day -- and the fact that too many guns have fallen into the hands of those who are not legally permitted to possess them."
The National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund notes that for the first time in 14 years, more police and other law enforcement agents died in shootings than in traffic accidents. This year, 64 officers were killed either in car or motorcycle crashes, or by being struck by vehicles while on the job.
"Drastic budget cuts affecting law enforcement agencies across the country have put our officers at grave risk," said Craig Floyd, the chairman of the memorial fund. Floyd and others have expressed concerns that in these tight economic times, there have been reductions in training and equipment for police.
Spurred by approximately 50 officer deaths early this year, Holder met with a number of police chiefs as well as federal law enforcement leaders in March to discuss what could be done and announced a Law Enforcement Safety Initiative. The program provides information and training.
Holder said in his Wednesday statement that a Justice Department program to help local police obtain bullet- and stab-resistant vests has saved 16 officers since January.
Florida has had the largest number of officer deaths this year -- a total of 14. That was followed by Texas with 13, New York with 11, and 10 fatalities in both California and Georgia.
In additions to gunshots and traffic accidents, law-enforcement deaths this year were caused by a variety of things including stabbings, falls and job-related illnesses.
The report provides some historical perspective -- the deadliest year for gunfire deaths of police in the United States was 1973, when 156 officers were shot and killed.
Gun deaths declined in recent decades, hitting a low of 40 officers lost in 2008.
"However, firearms-related fatalities have increased 70% from 2008 to 2011," according to the report.