SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Data compiled by the FBI shows an alarming trend: a nationwide increase in deadly violence against police officers.
According to the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted database (LEOKA), fatal felony attacks on officers spiked 31.6% in early 2021. By the end of April, police departments had reported a total of 25 police officers killed in felony attacks. At the same time last year, that number was 19.
That number has already surged higher, up to 31 officers killed in felony attacks as of May 26th. That’s 55% higher than the 20 officers killed at this time last year. The FBI stats show 12 of the officers were killed in unprovoked attacks.
“Frankly, I’m sick of being on the defensive,” said Ed Wojcicki, the Executive Director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. “People seem to feel more emboldened to prod the officers, in some cases physically harm them.”
Champaign police officer Chris Oberheim became one of those statistics last week. He was responding to a domestic violence call when he was shot and killed on May 19th. One year from this month, Oberheim’s name will be etched in stone at the Illinois Police Memorial outside the statehouse in Springfield along with all other police officers killed in the line of duty this year.
In 2019, police departments reported a total of 48 officers killed in felony attacks. That number dipped slightly to 46 in 2020, but is rising higher so far in 2021.
In Chicago, police superintendent David Brown noted an alarming increase in violence directed at law enforcement after an officer was shot in March.
“Last year, there were 79 officers shot at or shot,” Brown said at a March press conference. “So far this year, we are on an even greater pace than last year with 13 officers shot at or shot.”
“It just highlights the dangers of policing in the current environment we’re in,” he said.
Police officers searching for answers to the rise in violence point to a number of possible reasons to explain the increase. Many in law enforcement say they are sensitive to the shifting public sentiments especially in the aftermath of viral videos that show police officers using force.
“The people who are getting the most attention right now are the people who have something bad to say about the police,” Wojcicki noted.
While body camera videos can alter public perception, officers are also familiar with the unforgiving reality that accompanies a rise in crime across the board: with gun violence and domestic violence climbing higher, the sheer volume of officers who answer those calls puts them at greater risk of being in harm’s way.
“People will come to their senses and realize that while all this is going on, the police are out there protecting them day in and day out,” Wojcicki said.