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Heart attacks among top causes of officer deaths

POLICE FATALITIES MID 2013

Heart attacks among top causes of officer deaths

— Excerpted from National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and USA Today

While 2013 is shaping up to be one of the safest years on record compared to the average number of line-of-duty fatalities per decade, one rising cause of death is catching the attention of researchers and police alike – heart attacks.

The first half of 2013 saw a 60 percent increase in other causes of officer fatalities unrelated to firearms or traffic. Sixteen officers died due to job-related illnesses and other causes compared to 10 during the same period in 2012, according to a mid-year report issued by National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) in conjunction with Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.).

Job-related illnesses, such as heart attacks, rose dramatically with ten officer deaths compared to two during the same period in 2012, according to the report. Nine of the 10 died of heart attacks, which is three more than all of last year combined, according to the report. Even more noteworthy, at least five of the nine officers were younger than 50 at the time of their deaths. Eight of the nine were engaged in physical activity related to police work or training when they were stricken. The youngest was a 26-year-old corrections officer who was responding to an alarm inside a prison when he died.

“The number does look dramatic,” said Bart Johnson, executive director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). “This has been on our radar screen for a while now.” Johnson said the IACP has been meeting with representatives of the health care company Johnson & Johnson to develop a more strategic approach to officer wellness as part of the Association’s Center for Officer Safety and Wellness.

The effort follows research on heightened risk factors associated with law enforcement jobs. A 2012 article in the medical journal Cardiology in Review concluded that common risk factors for officers — hypertension, obesity, smoking, sedentary lifestyles and sudden physical stress — “often (exceed) that found in the civilian population.” In March, the National Occupational Research Agenda, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listed cardiovascular disease and its relationship to officer disability and death among its top priorities.

Although many law enforcement agencies require officers to meet fitness standards before employment, few departments require officers to maintain those standards, Johnson said.

Overall law enforcement line-of-duty deaths were 9 percent higher than the first half of last year. Among the 51 officers who died in the first half of 2013, 18 died in traffic-related incidents and 17 were killed in firearms-related incidents, according to the report. While traffic-related incidents were once again the leading cause of officer fatalities, the 18 killed still marked a 34-year low, according to the Memorial Fund. Firearms-related incidents were the second leading cause of deaths, and ambush attacks were the leading cause of fatal shootings with seven officer deaths. After dramatic increases in 2010 and 2011, firearms-related fatalities dropped to a 57-year low.

The states with the most line-of-duty deaths were: California with seven; Arkansas with six; Louisiana and Texas with three each; and Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, New York and Virginia with two each, the report stated. Forty-seven fallen officers were male, four were female.

“Though our ultimate goal is zero deaths, it is encouraging to see preliminary data in line with 2012, which had the lowest number of officer deaths in 52 years,” said Craig W. Floyd, Memorial Fund Chairman & CEO. “We are changing the way people think about law enforcement safety. No longer should any officer’s death or injury be accepted as “just part of the job.”

A copy of the full report is available at www.LawMemorial.org/ResearchBulletin.

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