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FBI data shows large increase in officers killed in the line of duty so far in 2021

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 8:29 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - 19 Investigates uncovered new data that points to an alarming rise in law enforcement deaths in 2021.

The numbers released this month by the FBI show significantly more officers have been killed in the line of duty this year than last.

We spoke to the highest-ranking criminal investigator in our region about the increase and what can be done to curb it.

Eric Smith is the Special agent in charge at the Cleveland area FBI.

“It’s devastating,” he said. “Every single officer means something.”

The most recent officer killed in our viewing area, you’ll likely remember, was Officer James Skernivitz.

He was killed during an undercover mission in 2020.

The new data shows that the huge spike in officers killed came in the months that followed Skernivitz’s death.

The FBI said so far this year, 59 officers have been killed.

That’s almost a 51% increase from the 37 who had died by this time last year.

“It’s really alarming, and it’s why we want to have this conversation,” Smith said. “It’s about one officer that’s being killed every five days. That’s just far too high.”

The FBI is so concerned about the numbers that agents were the ones to reach out to 19 Investigates wanting to get the word out.

“I think it’s important for us to talk about that and the threats they face and the increase in violence that they are seeing out there,” Smith said.

We asked if there is anything the federal agency attributes the increase in violence to.

He said, “I know that we can put down a single reason or cause-- whether it is folks going into a really fluid domestic violence situation, or a traffic stop, or search warrant, or arrest warrant-- I think the totality of all of them is that the first response from the people they are coming into contact with is to reach for a weapon.”

That’s what police said happened in the case of a Toledo Police officer in January of this year.

Officer Brandon Stalker was trying to arrest an arson suspect who barricaded himself inside a home.

The suspect ended up shooting and killing Officer Stalker during a standoff. Smith says he’s one of three officers that have died as the result of an assault this year in Ohio.

“It’s easy to become callous to the increase and let it wash over you and not think and reflect on it, but it’s important that every one of those you look at it for what it is,” Smith said.

While Smith believes the nation has seen more officers targeted an ambushed in recent months, he says the main issue lies with the public’s reaction when confronted by police. That’s where he wants to see a shift. He wants people to comply with officer orders, and sort out the logistics of who’s right and wrong later.

“Find another profession where someone pins on a badge and a gun, and their duty is to protect someone that they don’t even know. They are being targeted and killed to do that duty,” Smith said.

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