COVID-19 accounted for 62% of duty-related law enforcement deaths in 2020, study finds

COVID-19 accounted for 62% of the 295 duty-related law enforcement deaths reported in 2020 to the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund database, which tracks law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty, according to a new University at Buffalo study.

The study, published last month in Policing: An International Journal, also found that COVID-19 accounted for 82% of deaths among Black members of law enforcement and 77% of deaths in Latinx officers, far higher than the 48% of deaths among white police officers.

These figures align with CDC data finding that race and ethnicity are risk markers for higher COVID-19 death rates, along with socioeconomic status, access to health care and exposure to the virus related to one’s occupation.

While the study looked specifically at COVID-19 deaths among members of law enforcement in 2020, there are important lessons for police and other first responder organizations going forward, said John Violanti, PhD, the study’s first author and research professor of epidemiology and environmental health in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.

It’s the first study to examine law enforcement deaths from COVID-19 on a national level, demonstrating the widespread risk from COVID that officers face in their work.

Moreover, Violanti says, COVID has proven to be another source of stress for an occupational group that already faces numerous stressors that affect job performance and overall health. (Gunshots, automobile crashes, and physical stress were among the leading causes of death among law enforcement other than COVID-19.)

“The study’s finding that the majority of law enforcement deaths in 2020 were from COVID-19 reveals the added danger that law enforcement face during this pandemic,” added Violanti, a retired New York State Trooper and expert in police stress.

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