The number of police officers slain in the line of duty fell sharply last year, according to FBI data released Monday.
Bureau statistics list 41 law enforcement officers killed in 2008, down from 58 in 2007. The list includes one FBI agent, Sam Hicks, who was shot and killed during a drug raid outside Pittsburgh.
Felony killings of police officers haven’t been that low since 1999, when 42 were killed, the FBI said. Police officer support groups — which use different standards to count officer killings — say the number of officers killed hasn’t been this low since the 1960s.
In addition to felony killings, the FBI said 68 law enforcement officers were killed in accidents last year, most of them involving car crashes.
“Certainly the greater use of body armor, bulletproof vests, has had a big impact, after firearms-related fatalities peaked in the 1970s,” said Kevin Morison, spokesman for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
The fund keeps its own numbers on law enforcement deaths, and by its count 53 officers died in felony incidents in 2008, and another 80 in accidents. The discrepancy is based in large part on the FBI only counting those deaths that occur as line-of-duty incidents, and if the officer had arrest powers.
Overall, Morison said, the trends show officer killings haven’t been this low in four decades.
However, the group’s data also show that for the first half of 2009, officer killings rose 20 percent.
Suzie Sawyer, executive director of Concerns of Police Survivors, or COPS, said that in addition to bulletproof vests saving lives, medical advances and better training are also keeping more cops alive in dangerous situations.
“Police officers are being shot and still living. It’s a trend and we just wish it would continue to keep coming down,” she said.