Law Enforcement fatalities in 2016 highest in five years

Paul Dughi
4 min readFeb 19, 2017
Lelsey Zerebny and Jose Gilbert Vega / Everpedia

Police officer Lesley Zerebny, 27 years old, has just returned to work after maternity leave. Officer Jose Gilbert Vega, age 63, was a 35-year veteran and closing in on retirement. Both were responding to a domestic disturbance in Palm Springs, California.

John Hernandez Felix had barricaded himself inside a house and refused to come out. While officers Vega and Zerebny tried to negotiate, Felix had other ideas. He fired his gun through a closed front door and killed both of them.

“It was a simple family disturbance, and he elected to open fire.” — Palm Springs, CA Police Chief Brian Reyes via CNN.

Zerebny and Vega were just two of the 64 law enforcement officers shot and killed in the line of duty in 2016. In total last year, 135 law enforcement died in the line of duty, according to preliminary data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in their 2016 Law Enforcement Fatalities Report.

The 135 officer fatalities in 2016 are the highest in five years, representing a 10% increase over the 123 who died in 2015 and is the highest total since 2011 when 177 officers died. Roughly half (64) of the 2016 totals came when officers were shot and killed.

It’s always been dangerous work. A third of officers in police department across the country say they’ve struggled or fought with a suspect resisting arrest in the last month alone. Nearly 8,000 police officers took part in a nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center, which released the statistics in January, 2017.

Regardless of whether they’ve had a physical encounter with a suspect, the vast majority of officers say they have serious concerns about their physical safety at least sometimes when they are on the job. 42% say they nearly always or often have serious concerns.

Police and Public see things differently

Police and the public hold very different views on police safety. While 83% of adults, in a different Pew Research study, say they do understand the risks police officers face, only 14% of officers say the general public understands the risks.

High profile incidents between police and African-Americans have made the job harder

Recent high profile incidents between police officers and African-Americans have added to difficulty. 86% of the officers surveyed said these incidents have made their job harder. 94% said they are now more concerned about their safety. Nearly three-quarters say their colleagues are more reluctant to apply force — even when appropriate — or even stop and question people acting suspiciously because of the incidents. About the same number say that interactions between police and blacks have become “more tense,” per the research.

Black and White officers view incidents differently

There’s a broad disagreement within police ranks of these incidents depending on the officer’s race.

72% of white officers say the deaths of blacks during encounters were police are isolated incidents rather than a sign of a bigger problem (28%).

57% of black officers, per the study, say that it’s a sign of a broader problem while only 43% say it’s attributable to isolated incidents.


So far in 2017, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 16 officers have been killed in the line of duty. That represents a 33% increase over the same time a year ago.

The most recent is Richmond County, Georgia 33-year veteran, Sergeant Greg Meagher, who died after being exposed to liquid nitrogen while attempting to rescue a woman at a medical facility in Augusta.

Meagher and several other deputies had responded to the facility and were told that a woman was unconscious inside. Firs ton the scene, when they tried to enter, they were overcome by fumes. The fire department was able to get Meagher and the woman out and get them to the hospital, but Meagher didn’t make it.