LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS KILLED: 1980 1989
Victoria L. Major
Supervisor, Uniform Crime Reporting Section
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Federal Bureau of Investigation began to maintain and
to publish statistics on law enforcement officers killed in
their lives protecting others. Yet, at the same time, the
nformation provides an insightful look into this heinous crime.
This article gives an overview of law enforcement officers
killed during the years 1980-1989.
During the decade of the 1980s, 801 law enforcement
officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty. Officer
U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands,
officers, 442 were employed by city police departments, 208 by
county police and sheriff's offices, and 84 by State agencies.
Twenty-three Federal agents and 44 territorial officers were
The 1980s total was 30 percent lower than that of the
officers were killed. The lowest totals were in 1986 and 1989,
Of the 801 officers killed from 1980 through 1989, 783 were
male and 18 were female. Seventy-seven officers were under 25
years of age; 515 were aged 25 to 40; and 209 were over 40 years
old. By race, 703 of the slain officers were white; 96 were
black; and 2 were of other races.
The law enforcement officers killed during the past decade
averaged 9 years' law enforcement experience. Veterans of more
than 10 years accounted for 34 percent of the victim officers.
Thirty-three percent had from 5 to 10 years of service; 29
The average height of officers killed during the 10-year
Arrest situations resulted in the deaths of law enforcement
officers more frequently than any other activity during the
attempting an arrest when killed.
Among the remaining victims, 132 were killed upon
family quarrels); 117 were investigating suspicious persons or
circumstances; 107 were conducting traffic pursuits or stops; 71
custody of prisoners; and 12 were handling mentally deranged
ndividuals. One officer was slain during a civil disorder.
TYPES OF ASSIGNMENT
Patrol officers accounted for nearly two of every three
officers slain throughout the decade. Detectives or officers on
Of those killed while on patrol, 78 percent were assigned
to one-officer vehicles, 20 percent to two-officer vehicles, and
officers were alone and unassisted at the time of their deaths,
assignment were alone and unassisted.
Firearms claimed the lives of 92 percent or 735 of the 801
officers killed in the line of duty from 1980 through 1989.
Seventy percent of the murders were committed by the use of
The most common types of handguns used against officers
accounted for nearly two of every three handgun deaths.
More than one-half of the officers killed by gunshots
assailants at the time of the attack. Fifty-four percent of the
firearm fatalities were caused by wounds to the upper torso,
Of the 735 officers killed with firearms, 120 or 16 percent
of the service weapons used against the officers; shotguns for
or .38-special cartridge types.
Weapons other than firearms claimed the lives of 66
officers during the 10-year period. Thirty-three officers were
ntentionally struck with vehicles, 17 were knifed, 7 were
beaten with blunt objects, 5 were beaten with personal weapons
(hands, fists, feet), 2 were burned, 1 was drowned, and 1 was
Of the 735 officers slain with firearms during the 1980s,
Thirty-two officers were killed when bullets entered between the
killed by wounds to the upper torso outside the area of the
vests, and 12 by gunshot wounds below the vest area. Six
officers were slain when bullets penetrated their protective
In addition to the 157 officers shot and killed while
other than firearms. Eight officers wearing vests were
ntentionally struck by vehicles, three were stabbed, and one
The most populous region, the Southern States, recorded 46
States recorded 18 percent of the deaths; the Midwestern States,
territories, 5 percent.
A comparison of regional totals for the two periods,
killed during the latter 5-year span declined in all regions.
Among the 50 States, Texas lost more officers to
line-of-duty deaths than any other during the decade. Four
States recorded no felonious killings during the 10-year
Law enforcement agencies in the Nations largest cities,
those with more than 250,000 inhabitants, lost more officers to
line-of-duty deaths than departments in municipalities of any
other size. These cities collectively recorded 24 percent of
all felonious killings in the decade. Following were suburban
county law enforcement agencies, registering 16 percent of the
In the past decade, 62 percent of the incidents resulting
n officers deaths occurred from 6:01 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. The
figures show the 6:01 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. period to be the hours
Daily figures for the decade show more officers were slain
on Thursdays than on any other day of the week. The fewest
fatalities were recorded on Sundays. January was the month
August showed the lowest total, 53.
Ninety-eight percent of the 801 slayings of law enforcement
officers during the 1980s have been cleared. Of the 1,077
male and 43 were female. Fifty-six percent of those identified
Seven of every 10 suspects identified had previous arrests,
and 5 of 10 had a prior conviction. The records also show that
Twenty-four percent of those identified were on parole or
Of the 1,077 persons identified, 879 have been arrested by
law enforcement agencies. One hundred forty-three were
and 1 was murdered in an unrelated incident.
Based on available disposition information, 70 percent of
those arrested and charged in connection with the killings of
law enforcement officers during the 1980s were found guilty of
murder. Eight percent were found guilty of a lesser offense
other than murder. Two percent of those charged were committed
to psychiatric institutions, and 1 percent died in custody
before final disposition. Ten percent of the suspects were
acquitted or had the charges against them dismissed.
Disposition is pending for 6 percent of the arrestees, the
majority of whom were arrested in 1988 and 1989.
In addition to those feloniously killed during the decade,
the decade was in 1980 with 61 deaths recorded. The last year
of the decade, 1989, registered the highest count, 79.
Automobile accidents were the leading cause of accidental
Following were accidents where officers were struck by vehicles
at traffic stops, road blocks, while directing traffic or
assisting motorists, etc. (160); aircraft accidents (89);
accidental shootings (60); motorcycle accidents (49); and other
types of accidents, such as falls, drownings, etc. (43).
Geographically, the Southern States recorded 312 accidental
Northeastern States, 101; Puerto Rico, 10; and Guam, 2. An
additional four officers were accidentally killed in the line of
Many officers paid the ultimate price in the performance of
their duties. They accepted the challenges of their profession
freely and faced each challenge unselfishly. Hopefully, the
those who continue to enforce the laws of this country and