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NLEOMF: Officers Killed by Gunfire Up 24% in 2009

NLEOMF: Officers Killed by Gunfire Up 24% in 2009

A member of Oakland Police Honor Guard stands at his post near the four caskets of Oakland Police Officers. (AP Photo)

The AP via YellowBrix

December 13, 2009

NEW YORK — A police officer is gunned down in his patrol car in Penn Hills, Pa., while waiting for backup. Near Seattle, four officers starting their day at a coffee shop are ambushed by an ex-con with a handgun. Another four officers are shot to death in Oakland, Calif., after a traffic stop gone awry. Across the nation, 2009 was a particularly perilous year for officers involved in gun disputes.

The number of officers killed in the line of duty by gunfire increased 24 percent from 2008, according to preliminary statistics compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a national nonprofit organization that tracks officer-related deaths.

As of Saturday, 47 police officers have died nationwide this year after being shot while on duty, up from 38 for the same time in 2008, which was the lowest number of gunfire deaths since 1956, according to the data.

Over the past decade, small spikes in gunfire deaths have been common, but experts say they are surprised by the number of officers this year who have been specifically targeted by gunmen.

“There’s an increasingly desperate population out there,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “Other than in rare cases for ideological reasons, we really haven’t seen people taking on the cops head-to-head. Something is amiss. It should be cause for grave concern.”

Contributing to this year’s spike are cases in which several officers were shot and killed in groups — the four officers last month outside Seattle; the four officers in Oakland, Calif., in March; three officers in Pittsburgh in April; and two officers in Okaloosa County, Fla., in April.

In the Nov. 29 shootings near Seattle, four Lakewood Police Department officers, all in uniform, were sitting with their laptops at a bustling coffee shop when shots rang out. Authorities said the gunman, Maurice Clemmons, spared employees and other customers. Clemmons was later shot to death in a confrontation with another officer, who wasn’t harmed.

Clemmons had a violent, erratic past in Washington state and Arkansas. His 108-year prison sentence for armed robbery and other offenses was commuted by then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2000. Six days before the shooting, he had posted bail on charges of raping a child.

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