In a typical year, the most dangerous parts of being a police officer occur while on patrol. For the past 20 years, gunfire has been the leading cause of death, and there are just two exceptions: 2001, when 9/11 claimed 72 officer lives, and 2017 when 48 died from 9/11-related cancer. However, 2020 is not a typical year, and so far, the coronavirus has contributed to more law enforcement deaths than all other causes combined, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund (NLEMF) and the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP).
According to the two charities, at least 101 police officers have died from COVID-19 in 2020. ODMP told CNN it’s working to verify an additional 150 officers who have died from the virus. One report said first responder deaths could double in 2020 because of the coronavirus.
Since the start of the pandemic, police have been considered essential workers. The job entails plenty of social contact with civilians, with much of it not conducive to maintaining six feet from strangers (that also goes for EMS and firefighter personnel).
Multiple precincts across the U.S. have resisted enforcing mask mandates for their employees, including one Florida sheriff who outright banned masks in August. The sheriff said face coverings impaired police officers from clearly communicating with their community.
Before the pandemic, 9/11 was the leading reason for police officer deaths. In 2001, 71 officers died during the attack. Since then, 311 officers have died from 9/11-related cancer.
ODMP communications director Jessica Rushing told CNN that the pandemic’s toll is on track to surpass that number.
“Based on the number of COVID cases we have coming in each day, we think it is very possible and even likely that COVID will surpass 9/11 as the single incident with the highest line of duty death toll in the country,” Rushing said.
Texas leads as the state with the most law enforcement officer deaths from COVID-19. The state has recorded 24 deaths. Louisiana has the next highest number of COVID-related officer deaths, with 12. Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois have each recorded eight deaths.
Out of the 24 deaths in Texas, at least 16 were officers who worked with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Both non-profits told the Washington Post that officers in correctional facilities account for many police who have died. Another North Texas officer died in early October from COVID-19 complications.
Chris Cosgriff, executive director of ODMP, told the Post that corrections officers and corrections departments have been “hit harder than regular police agencies.”
According to the Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism site that studies criminal justice, more than 115,000 U.S. prison inmates and more than 24,000 prison staff tested positive for COVID-19. At least 900 inmates and more than 70 prison staff have died. Texas leads with the most cases and deaths in prisons than any other state. Additionally, Texas leads with the most prison staff deaths.