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Number Of Cops Shot On The Job Is Lowest It's Been Since 1887

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Believe it or not, it's a safe time to be a police officer. The rogue ex-LAPD cop Christopher Dorner might have grabbed headlines in 2013 for putting his former colleagues on his hit list. But his rampage was an anomaly in more ways than one: it turns out that fewer police officers died in shootings in 2013 than any year in the entirety of the 20th century.

In the whole United States, 33 police officers were shot in 2013 (as of this writing). That number is the lowest it's been since 1887 when 27 officers were killed in shootings, which seems absolutely incredible when you consider that the population was about 20 percent of what it is today. (We're gonna take an educated guess and assume that there are way more cops on duty, too.) The numbers come from a bulletin put out by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund this week.

Altogether 111 officers in the line of duty in 2013, and those numbers are also at historic lows. The last time so few police officers were killed on duty was 1959 when 110 officers were killed. Texas lost 13 officers this year, California lost 10, New York and Mississippi each lost seven.

The biggest cause of death for police officers were traffic collisions (46 were killed this way), and 14 officers died suffering heart-attacks while they were on duty. Two were stabbed to death. Six officers died in falls, two drowned attempting to save flash flood victims, one was killed in a helicopter crash, one was killed in an explosion and one was electrocuted.

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This happens to come at a time when crime has generally been on the decline. New York is on track to have the lowest murder rate since the 1960s. But I was surprised to see that the worst years for cops didn't necessarily coincide with the worst years for murders in the U.S.. Officer deaths spiked at 280 one year in the mid-1970s, and have generally been on the decline ever since with the exception of 2001—the year of 9/11. So yes, even in the bad old days of the crack epidemic when the number of murders were peaking in cities all over the U.S., the number of officers killed on duty was on the decline:

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund chalks up the most recent decline to different tactics and training:

Among them were: an increasing number of agencies requiring officers to wear bullet-resistant vests; the formation of the National Officer Safety and Wellness Group by the U.S. Department of Justice; and the VALOR program launched by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to provide training to help prevent violence against officers and to help officers survive violent encounters when they do occur.

We're not sure what explains the general decline over time even as the population rises (hit us up savvy criminologists).The Los Angeles Times points out that officer-involved shootings have ticked up since 1999 when there were 308 officer-involved killings in in the U.S. in 1999. Last year there were 410 altogether. (The Times keeps track of officer-involved shootings in L.A. as a part of its Homicide Report project, so you can see the names and read some of their stories here.)

So when the police union for the LAPD says "L.A. streets are safer for all but police," we now know to take it with a grain of salt (h/t @OLAASM). (I'm especially skeptical considering the questionable way assaults on police are counted.)Being a cop is a much more dangerous job than others including, say, blogging from home in one's pajamas, but it's all relative. The job of a police officer has gotten much safer over time, and the dangers they face don't stack up next to the jobs of the people who recycle our trash and garbage, fix our roofs, grow our food or construct the buildings we live and work in.