The work of police officers is not easy and in fact, can be dangerous. The job is stressful, physically strenuous, and emotionally exhausting. Officers need to be vigilant and constantly aware of their surroundings and any potential emergency that may arise. At any given moment, they run the very real risk of being shot while on the line of duty, attacked by criminals, being involved in a traffic accident, or even being exposed to an illness. This risk is higher in some places than in others. Below is a list of the most dangerous states to be a police officer per line of duty deaths.
States with Highest Numbers of On-Duty Police Deaths
More police officers in Texas have lost their lives than in any other state. The first recorded police death in the state occurred in 1791. Since then, Texas has lost 1,682 officers. Of these deaths, the number 1 cause was gunfire, resulting in 1097 deaths. The second leading cause of death is automobile accidents (169 deaths). The most dangerous district here is Houston which, over time, has lost 113 individuals. Houston is a big city with a high crime rate, 9.9 violent crimes per 1,000 people compared to a statewide 4.06 per 1,000. The city has a 4.7% unemployment rate and 17.9% of the population has not completed a high school education. Lower levels of education have been linked to violent crimes. The city does have some non-profit organizations that are working toward empowering students to stay in school.
California has lost 1,571 police officers over the years. The number 1 cause of death here has been gunfire (724 deaths). The second leading cause is automobile accidents (184 deaths). The Los Angeles Police Department has lost the most individuals in the entire state (206 deaths). Almost 50% of these deaths has been due to gunfire. Los Angeles is a big city, situated in the highest populated county in the country, with a high crime rate, 4.98 violent crimes per 1,000 people. Here, many neighborhoods are filled with poverty and gang-related activity, including drug trafficking. Statistics show, however, that crime here has been decreasing over the last ten years.
In New York, 1,375 officers have died in the line of duty. Again, gunfire is the number 1 cause, 530 deaths. The New York City Police Department has lost 856 officers, 99 of these men and women were due to the attacks on September 11. Gunfire deaths are reported at 325. New York has long been known for its high crime rate, though those numbers are dropping. During the 1980’s and 90’s, there was a spike in drug-related crimes that has since been tackled. This police department was the first to begin using the COMPSTAT method.
Illinois has experienced the loss of 1,013 police officers. A large percentage of these deaths is due to gunfire, 636 to be exact. As noted with the other states, the majority of police deaths occurs in the state’s largest city, Chicago. Although, the city hasn’t reported an officer’s death since 2011. Chicago has a higher than average violent crime rate, particularly murder, and the south side is where large numbers of these crimes occur. The south side neighborhoods are largely poor with low levels of education and high numbers of gang involvement. Murders have surged in 2016 well over 2015 rates and police have responded by coordinating gang raids.
Pennsylvania has lost 824 police officers. The district with the most losses has been in the Philadelphia Police Department where 255 officers have lost their lives. Of the fallen police officers, 126 have been to gunfire. Violent crimes like shootings and murders, while lower than 10 years ago, are once again on the rise. Like other cities on this list, the concern here is with rising gang activity.
The state of Ohio has a history of 780 police lives lost. Here, two cities have lost a similar number of officers. Cleveland reports 107 deaths, 75 to gunfire, and Cincinnati reports 98 deaths, 52 to gunfire. In 2014, Cleveland had the 5th highest violent crime rate of any city in the US, a fact attributed to gang activity and exposure to childhood violence at home. In Cincinnati, the situation is nearly the same as Cleveland. Although, Cincinnati once had much lower crime rates. The riots of 2001 which were triggered by the police shooting and death of an unarmed African American, 19-year old Timothy Thomas, seem to have been a turning point for the city. Since that time, violent crime has been increasing particularly in neighborhoods with low socioeconomic resources.
Florida has lost a total of 772 officers, 409 of these to gunfire. In this state, it seems that being a Highway Patrol officer is the most dangerous as this department has lost the highest number of officers of any other department. Forty-five line of duty deaths, with 18 of these by gunfire. However, combining the Metro-Dade Police Department in Miami and the Miami Police Department, the number of deaths is 61. In fact, the chance of becoming a victim of violent crime in Miami is 1 in 85. Many of the neighborhoods in this city are filled with high unemployment rates, over 10%. Unemployment is consistently linked to crime rates.
Police officers in Missouri have lost 636 of their brothers and sisters. Of these deaths, 393 were caused by gunfire. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has witnessed the majority of these, 170. This city has an astounding 16.86 violent crimes per 1,000 people making it one of the least safe cities in the country and according to the FBI, the most violent city. The surge in crime has been attributed to the availability of cheap heroin and increasing Mexican drug trafficking activity. Neighborhoods are also overwhelmed with poverty, unemployment, and a loss of hope. Non-profit youth-focused organizations have been working with children in these areas to prevent school dropouts and drug use.
Georgia police have experienced 597 fallen officers, 395 of them to gunfire. The Atlanta Police Department has lost 85 of these police officers due to high rates of crime in that city. Once considered the most dangerous city in the country, Atlanta police cracked down on crime and violent crime has gone down by as much as 55%.
Since the beginning of police death records, Kentucky has lost 581 officers. The vast majority of these deaths has been by gunfire. The Louisville Police Department has proven the most dangerous for police with 82 deaths. In this city, property crimes are extremely high, 44.17 per 1,000 residents. Violent crimes rank at 6.32 per 1,000 people. The West Louisville neighborhood is one of the poorest in the country due to a loss of manufacturing jobs and deindustrialization.
Poverty Breeds Violence
As with each state on this list, areas with high poverty, high unemployment rates, and low education attainment are breeding grounds for violence. With little to no opportunity, despair in residents takes over reason thus making these places dangerous for police officers and civilians.