Attacks on police officers are becoming less frequent - but more deadly, local and national experts say.
The number of police fatalities nationwide increased 37 percent last year, with 159 officers killed in the line of duty. In Cincinnati, two officers were shot to death in December - the city's first police fatalities since 1987.
But as Monday's shooting of Cincinnati Police Officer Kathleen Conway again focused attention on officers' safety, an Enquirer review of local and national statistics showed that overall assaults on law-enforcement officers are dropping.
In Cincinnati, police suffered 262 assaults in 1996 - down 16 percent from 313 in 1995, according to Max Luttrell, a police technician in crime analysis. In the past four years, Cincinnati officers survived more than 1,200 attacks.
Figures weren't tracked in 1997 because reporting requirements changed, and records before 1993 were unavailable Tuesday.
Those attacks ranged from slaps and punches to shootings and vehicular assaults and occurred during traffic pursuits, prisoner transports, mental patient runs and other calls.
Nationally, 56,686 officers - of more than 420,000 total - survived assaults in 1995, the most recent year statistics are available, according to the FBI. That's down 30 percent from a high of 81,252 in 1992 and nearly 12 percent lower than the 64,259 attacked a decade ago.
Most occurred when police responded to disturbance calls. ''One officer being assaulted is too many,'' Cincinnati Police Division spokesman Lt. Tim Schoch said, referring to Officer Conway's shooting.
''The numbers may be on the decline, but they've never been so vivid. Certainly this points out the inherent dangers in the job and the obligation officers have to themselves and the public they serve that they be physically and mentally ready for an unprovoked attack like this.''
Agreed FOP President Keith Fangman: ''In the past six years, violent criminals have shot at Cincinnati police officers 44 times. That is an unconscionably high number. It's intolerable.''
While experts rejoiced at the declining police assaults, they say the rise in deadly attacks is disturbing.
''The price of safety in America today is being paid for by the blood of our police officers,'' said Craig W. Floyd, chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which tracks police fatalities.
Reasons for the rise abound.
More officers are on the street than ever before, criminals may have more and deadlier weapons than officers, and some officers don't have adequate protective gear, Mr. Floyd said.
The jump in police fatalities also included a 25 percent rise in firearm-related incidents and a 50 percent rise in traffic-related fatalities, he said.
''For five years in a row, violent crime in America has gone down rather significantly, while the number of police fatalities went up nearly 40 percent,'' Mr. Floyd said. ''The risk for police officers who are on the front lines in the battle against crime in America is still very high.''
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