Proportionate mortality and national rate of death from COVID-19 among US law enforcement officers: 2020

Policing. 2022 May 24;45(5):881-891. doi: 10.1108/pijpsm-02-2022-0022.


Purpose –: The goal of the present study is to determine the proportionate mortality and national rate of duty-related deaths from COVID-19 among US law enforcement officers during the year 2020.

Design/methodology/approach –: Data for the current study were obtained from the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) database for the year 2020. The database contains deaths designated as caused by incidents that occurred while in the line of duty. The chi-square test and two-sample t-test were used to compare characteristics of officers who died of COVID-19 versus other causes of death. Both the proportionate mortality and rates of death were calculated. To compute the rate of death, the authors obtained data on the total number of law enforcement officers employed in the United States (and therefore at risk) for the year 2020 from Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Findings –: COVID-19 deaths (n = 182) accounted for 62% of all duty-related law enforcement officer deaths during 2020. The national rate of death due to COVID-19 (12.8/100,000 per year) for law enforcement officers was higher compared to all other causes of death combined (8.0/100,000 per year).

Research limitations/implications –: A limitation of the study is the uncertainty of a definitive assessment that the viral infection was acquired through work (versus at home or other non-work-related community settings). Although highly unlikely, deaths designated as duty related entail financial benefits for the survivors and may be a potential source of bias. Given the complexity of personal exposures, the percentage of COVID-19 deaths attributed to duty may represent an over or under estimation of the actual value. Therefore, the data should be interpreted cautiously.

Practical implications –: These findings provide police organizations with information needed to understand the risk of death among officers during the COVID-19 pandemic and to make informed decisions about future preparedness strategies.

Originality/value –: There are presently no published scientific studies that examine both the proportionate mortality and national rate of death from COVID-19 among law enforcement officers for the year 2020.

Keywords: COVID-19; Law enforcement officer deaths; National rates; Work exposures.