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Report: Shootings Were The Leading Cause Of Law Enforcement Officer Deaths In 2018

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A hundred and forty-four police officers across the country died in the line of duty this year. That grim statistic comes from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, and it's an increase over last year. From member station KERA in Dallas, Christopher Connelly reports.

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life...

CHRISTOPHER CONNELLY, BYLINE: In May, the Dallas Police Department buried its first officer killed on duty this year. Officer Rogelio Santander and his partner were responding to a suspected shoplifter at a Dallas hardware store when the man opened fire. Santander was 27 years old.

MIKE MATA: He was just a - he was a great officer - a great, young, motivated officer. I mean, he's exactly what the city of Dallas hope is out there protecting them every day.

CONNELLY: Sergeant Mike Mata is president of the Dallas Police Officers Association. He worked out of the same police station as Santander.

MATA: When these deaths happened - they affect every single officer, really, across the department. And we've had so many lately that it's been very difficult for any of the officers to really have the time to heal.

CONNELLY: In 2016, a gunman opened fire at a peaceful protest, killing five Dallas law enforcement officers in one night. This year, less than three months after Santander was killed, so was Senior Corporal Jamie Givens. He was a three-decade veteran of the force when he was struck by a drunk driver. Again, Mike Mata.

MATA: It's just a dangerous job, plain and simple.

CONNELLY: Across the country, 144 law enforcement officers died while on duty in 2018 from fatal shootings, in car or motorcycle collisions and from job-related diseases like heart attacks and strokes. Steve Groeninger is with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which tracks the deaths.

STEVE GROENINGER: You never know the situation that you're going to respond to. You never know who's making the call for service. When the dispatch goes out and you take that call, you oftentimes don't know what is the exact situation I'm walking into.

CONNELLY: Groeninger says more officers died this year than in 2017. And while that's concerning, he says overall better equipment, better training and better medical care have made policing safer than it was in previous decades. For NPR News, I'm Christopher Connelly in Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSE GONZALEZ'S "INSTR.") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.