Assessing dangerousness in policing: An analysis of officer deaths in the United States, 1970–2016

Michael White, Lisa M. Dario, John A. Shjarback

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Research Summary: A robust body of research findings has established that policing is a dangerous profession. Few scholars, however, have investigated the full picture of the hazards in policing, which includes deaths occurring in both felonious and nonfelonious circumstances. In this study, we examine nearly 50 years of all police officer line-of-duty deaths (1970–2016) using data from the Officer Down Memorial Page. We focus on long-term trends in felonious and nonfelonious deaths annually, as well as on trends in incident-level characteristics. We also employ interrupted time-series analysis (ARIMA) to test the “war on cops” thesis post–Ferguson. Policy Implications: The number of line-of-duty deaths has declined dramatically over the last five decades. Policing is a much safer profession now than it was 50 years ago. Despite a 75% drop in deaths, however, there has been remarkable stability in geographic-, temporal-, and incident-level characteristics. Also, several notable changes over time reflect favorably on improved safety in policing, such as declines in deaths resulting from aircraft crashes and accidental gunfire. Other trends are troubling, though, such as the stability in deaths during auto pursuits and a two-fold increase in deaths from vehicular assaults. Currently, the “war on cops” thesis is not supported by any evidence, and we apply the 50-year lens in this study to provide important context for understanding recent trends in officer deaths.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-35
Number of pages25
JournalCriminology and Public Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019


  • line-of-duty deaths
  • police officer deaths
  • violence against police

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Administration
  • Law


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