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Police deaths drop to lowest levels in 50 years

Police academy graduation ceremony (June 27, 2007)

Police academy graduation ceremony (June 27, 2007) Credit: Newsday File / Alejandra Villa

Police deaths in 2009 fell to their lowest levels in half a century, and local law enforcement officials said the drop was due in large part to better training and improved technology.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a police advocacy group headquartered in Washington, D.C., said that 124 police officers were killed in the line of duty in the U.S. this year, compared to 133 in 2008. The number is the lowest since 108 officers died in the line of duty in 1959, according to the group.

Fund chairman Craig Floyd said the drop is even more significant considering there are about three times as many police officers in the United States as there were 50 years ago.

"This has been a pretty steady downward trend in terms of law enforcement fatalities since the 1970s," said Floyd, who attributed much of the drop to the popularization of soft body armor for police.

There were no police fatalities in Nassau this year, and one in Suffolk. Officer Glen Ciano, 45, a 22-year veteran of the Suffolk County Police Department, was killed while on duty in February when his police cruiser was hit by a suspected drunken driver.

Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said two officers died during this decade, compared to six in the 1990s.

"I think it's the extensive training that the officers have been receiving in the last few years," said Dormer. That includes training on how to better handle dangerous calls and vehicle pursuits, he said.

One New York City police officer was killed in the line of duty in 2009, up from none in 2008, officials said.

Monday, Nassau police officials could not produce statistics on police deaths earlier than 2009.

Lt. Kevin Smith, spokesman for Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey, said the increased use of nonlethal weapons, such as stun guns, has also helped drive down police deaths. But, he said, the job remains perilous. Some 550 Nassau police officers and other emergency responders were injured in the line of duty this year, Smith said.

"People should not be mistaken. It could be a very dangerous job," Smith said.

Texas had the highest number of police deaths in 2009 with 11. New York was tied with Alabama as the state with the sixth-highest number of police fatalities, with five fallen police officers in each state. That's up from four police deaths in New York in 2008.

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