In a bit of good news here at the end of the year, an organization that keeps up with deaths of law enforcement officers across the nation reported Thursday that, after two years of increases, the number of officers killed on duty declined by 20 percent this year from 2011.
According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a total of 127 law enforcement officers have died this year. That includes officers on the local, state and federal levels. And, not surprisingly, the leading causes of the deaths were gunshot wounds or traffic wrecks.
While even one officer's death in the line of duty is too many, it is encouraging that, if the trend holds out in the waning days of the year, the death toll will be the lowest since 2009, when 122 officers were killed. The organization said this would also be only the second year since 1960 -- a span of 52 years -- in which the number of deaths came in below 130.
According to the numbers compiled by the organization, 13 of the deaths have been women. Forty-nine officers died in firearms deaths, with 15 of those coming from ambush attacks, but that is still a significant drop from the 72 who were killed by gunfire last year when a total of 165 officers died while protecting the public.
Even so, the leading cause of death so far is traffic wrecks, which have claimed the lives of 50 officers. Other causes listed were stabbings, job-related illnesses and even helicopter crashes, such as the one in Georgia that claimed the lives of two Atlanta policemen last month as they participated in a nighttime search for a missing child.
One area of the report that we wish our state had performed better in was the state-by-state breakdown of the deaths.
Georgia has the second-highest number of law enforcement fatalities at eight for the year, trailing only Texas, which has 10. Tied for No. 3 are Colorado and Maryland, with a half-dozen each. So far, a dozen states and the District of Columbia have not had any officers killed in 2012, a group we hope Georgia one day joins in that respect.
In recent years, we have seen our own law enforcement ranks tragically reduced, though fortunately none have come this year.
Still, as the new year dawns, we should remember these public servants who place their lives on the line every day. And we especially should remember those who died: Ptl. Marion C. Collins, Feb. 9, 1920; Chief Robert S. Wallis, Jan. 24, 1928; Ptl. Earl B. Crenshaw, June 18, 1956; Ptl. Thomas W. Dunbar, Oct. 26, 1961; Ptl. Randy E. Brown, June 10, 1979, and Cpl. Terry Lewis-Flemming, Oct. 28, 2011, all with the Albany Police Department; Capt. Thomas Mitchell Williamson and Lt. Albert Duane Clark, both on Nov. 16, 1988, and both with the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office; Lt. Thomas Clifford Rouse, Dec. 23, 2010, with the Dougherty County Police Department, and Cpl. Dustin J. Lee, March 21, 2007, U.S. Marine Corps.
We owe the people who wear the badges and stars a great debt of gratitude. As 2012 wraps up, it would be a good time to take the time to tell any of these men and women in uniform who you meet thank you for their service.
They make the streets safer for us. We should do all we can to make those streets safer for them as well.
-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board