Targeted Violence Against Law Enforcement Is on the Rise

The murder of L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer on September 16 sent shockwaves through the law enforcement community in Los Angeles and throughout California and left the public devastated by the loss of a dedicated peace officer. The 30-year-old deputy, a third-generation member of the department, had been sitting in his patrol vehicle at a traffic signal in front of the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station when an attacker shot and killed him without provocation.

Clunkubroomer’s death unfortunately represented yet another senseless killing of a law enforcement officer in an ambush-style attack.

Two months before, in July, a heavily armed man opened fire on Fargo, North Dakota, police officers who were investigating a fender bender. And in April, two police officers in Chetek, Wisconsin, were killed in a shooting during a traffic stop. These are two of many incidents in which police officers were attacked without warning for simply doing their jobs this year.

The concerning trend of targeted violence, especially by gunfire, against law enforcement has been steadily on the rise nationwide. In January of this year, LAAPOA provided an overview of the preliminary data of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund’s 2022 year-end fatalities report, which indicated that while overall line-of-duty deaths were trending down across the country, firearms deaths mirrored 2021 and remained significantly higher than the average of firearms-related fatalities in the previous decade. The report showed that such fatalities claimed the lives of 64 officers in 2022, with ambush attacks as the leading cause of death, killing 11 officers.

The FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) analysis of officers assaulted in 2021showed that assaults increased 11.2% from 2020 to 2021. Further, assaults against officers involving weapons (including firearms, knives, blunt instruments, vehicles, etc.) increased 10.5%, from an estimated 72,300 incidents in 2020 to an estimated 79,900 in 2021.

The number of officers shot and killed continues to grow this year. As of November 30, there have been 350 officers shot in the line of duty, and of those, 42 were killed by gunfire. There have been 108 ambush-style attacks on law enforcement officers, and of those, 130 officers were shot and 19 were killed by gunfire. (See the most recent state-by-state breakdown here.)

While federal reports and studies have found that the motives of the individuals behind these attacks can be attributed to a variety of factors, it can be argued that the rise in violent crime across the country since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic — caused by increasingly progressive criminal justice policies that fail to hold criminals accountable, the lack of policing resources as a result of the “defunding movement,” dwindling ranks due to recruitment and retention issues, and more — have further emboldened criminals to act with seeming impunity in recent years. This has created an even more dangerous landscape for law enforcement officers, who not only have to focus on their foremost duty to protect others from harm but also have to be prepared to respond to attacks targeting them specifically. (See other reports on ambush attacks here and here.)

In addition to federally funded studies attempting to understand these attacks and ways for law enforcement to respond to, prevent and survive from them, federal lawmakers are working to address the violence against police through punitive legislation. LAAPOA, along with its statewide partner PORAC, has been active in supporting the following bills:

  • H.R. 743, the Protect and Serve Act, which would create federal penalties for individuals who deliberately target local, state or federal law enforcement officers with violence in the line of duty. It also creates a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment for someone who attacks and injures an officer and a penalty of life in prison for someone who kills or kidnaps an officer.
  • H.R. 355, the Back the Blue Act, which would establish new criminal offenses for killing, assaulting and fleeing to avoid prosecution for killing a judge, law enforcement officer or public safety officer
  • S. 868/H.R. 1627, the Sergeant Steve Owen Defending Our Defenders Act, which would establish federal criminal offenses involving the murder of federal, state or local law enforcement officers. Violators would be subject to life in prison or death. It also sets forth aggravating factors (e.g., intent to ambush or prior history of promoting violence against a law enforcement officer) to be considered in determining whether to impose the death penalty.
  • S. 459/H.R. 130, the Thin Blue Line Act, which would provide enhanced penalties for convicted murderers who kill or target public safety officers

“The increase in ambush-style attacks against law enforcement is deplorable and underscores just how dangerous it is to be an officer, especially in this day and age, when anti-police sentiment and support for defunding initiatives and soft-on-crime policies have crippled our ranks and left our officers vulnerable to being attacked on all sides,” LAAPOA President Marshall McClain says. “Our officers put so much on the line when they suit up each day to fulfill their sworn oath to our communities, so it’s only right that we support legislation that will combat this unnecessary violence on our profession and protect those who protect us. No officer should be targeted for simply doing their job.

“LAAPOA will continue to work alongside PORAC to speak up for our members in the legislative arena and find ways to ameliorate this issue,” McClain continues. “In the meantime, we urge our members and law enforcement family to remain vigilant and watch over yourselves and your colleagues while on duty. Always be mindful that the goal is to return home safely to your loved ones at the end of your shifts.”