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Number of U.S. police deaths drops slightly

Two Capitol Police officers were shot to death inside the U.S. Capitol building  

December 29, 1998
Web posted at: 8:55 p.m. EST (0155 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Fewer law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 1998, but the numbers are still high when compared with recent declines in crime rates.

Preliminary figures, released Tuesday by two groups that keep track of police fatalities, show 155 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 1998. That's down slightly from 1997, when 160 officers were killed.

But that slight drop comes after police deaths jumped 20 percent from 1996 to 1997. Law enforcement officials are concerned that the decline in crime rates nationwide may be coming at a considerable cost.

"A greater number of law enforcement officers doing a better job than ever before is the major reason for the drop in our nation's crime rate," said Craig W. Floyd, chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which compiled the report with Concerns of Police Survivors.

"But unfortunately, that also means more officers in harm's way. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude," he added.

On average, a law enforcement officer dies on the job every 54 hours, he said.

"Since crime began its steady downward slide in 1992, more than 1,100 federal, state and local law enforcement officers have lost their lives in the performance of duty," Floyd said.

Violent crime also down

L.A. Police Officer Brian Brown was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting  

Justice Department figures released this week showed violent crime was down about 7 percent in 1997, the last year for which full statistics were available.

Those figures -- an estimated 39 violent crimes per 1,000 U.S. residents over age 12 -- are the lowest recorded in a quarter-century. The nation's murder rate alone fell by 8 percent, meaning the 18,210 murders last year were 28 percent lower than in 1993.

Of the 155 officers slain in 1998, 63 were shot to death, 44 died in automobile accidents, 15 were struck by vehicles, 10 drowned and nine succumbed to job-related illnesses. Other causes of death included aircraft accidents, falls and beatings.

California saw the most law enforcement deaths in 1998, with 17. Florida followed with 13 deaths. Texas had eight peace officers killed, while Arkansas, Indiana and Virginia each had seven.

Twelve of those who died this year were women, the most recorded in a single year. In 1997, only three female officers were killed.

On average, the officers killed were 39 years old and had served in the force for nearly 12 years.

Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas and Reuters contributed to this report.

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