Editorial: Lower toll still too high

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2008

While it’s welcome news that 2008 was one of the safest years in decades for law-enforcement officers, the fact that 140 officers died in the line of duty stands as somber testimony to the dangers that public safety officers confront as they work to keep their communities safe.
Earlier this year, the Salisbury Millwork Fire brought that home regarding the risks for firefighters. We can give thanks that Rowan County did not record a police officer’s death this year and that nationwide law-enforcement fatalities showed a sharp drop (from 181 in 2007). But officers continue to face many forms of peril, and the 2008 statistics, including four deaths in North Carolina, reflect that reality: For the 11th year in a row, traffic accidents claimed the most officers, 71 ó 44 in car crashes, 10 in motorcycle accidents and 17 struck by vehicles. Weapons fire killed 41 officers. Seventeen officers succumbed to job-related physical illnesses, three died in aircraft accidents, two were stabbed, two died in bomb-related incidents, and one each was beaten to death, drowned, accidentally electrocuted and died in a train accident, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Safety experts attribute this year’s lower toll in part to better training and equipment, including more effective protective vests and wider use of stun guns that enable officers to subdue violent suspects before taking them into custody. The results underscore the importance of providing police and other public-safety workers with up-to-date gear and other resources that may help save their lives, as well as ours, whether it’s Kevlar vests or reliable communications equipment.
Still, even with such improvements and a notable reduction in fatalities, this year’s toll reflects enormous losses for the officers’ families and for the communities they served. These numbers should make us all more aware of the inherent risks law-enforcement officers face and the sacrifices they make ó and more appreciative that they’re on the job.