Police Deaths Up in 2011: Harsh Budget Cuts to Blame?

Police fatalities rose during 2011 and gunfire was identified as the main cause of death.

According to data released Wednesday by National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 2011 was one of the deadliest in U.S. history for federal, state and local officers.

A total of 173 law enforcement officials died in the line of duty this year, including recently slain NYPD officer Peter Fogoski.

This figure is up 13 percent from 2010, which saw 153 fallen cops, and alarmingly, it’s up a whopping 42 percent from 2009, in which 122 officers were killed.

While research has yet to explain the hike in police deaths, critics suggest it is likely the result of the government's historic budget cuts back in April. Congressional leaders agreed to slash the federal spending budget by $38 billion, and the Department of Justice is said to have received the highest cuts.

The reduced budget means law enforcement agencies have had less money to spend on what many deem to be necessary protective equipment such as bulletproof vests, which promote safety.

One law enforcement official told The Chicago Tribune that he was shocked to learn about the drastic cuts.

"I thought, 'What's next?... It's ridiculous. This keeps police officers safe. [Police departments] have come to depend on that money," Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel told The Tribune.

The causes of police deaths vary each year, and according to NLEOMF, death by gunfire was the primary cause of death in 2011.

Other causes of death include strangulation, stabbings and beatings.

“I’m deeply concerned that budget constraints may be compromising the safety of our remaining law enforcement officers due to cuts in personnel and reduced affordability of life saving equipment," said National President of Concerns of Police Survivors, Linda Moon Gregory.

The findings come just weeks after the highly publicized funeral of Figoski, a 22-year NYPD veteran whose death captured the hearts and wallets of thousands of New Yorkers.

Figoski, a father of four young girls, was recently shot dead during a drug-related theft bust in Brooklyn.

In the fallen cop's honor, the New York City Police Foundation established The Peter Figoski Scholarship Fund to raise money for his four daughters and their education.

Within a few weeks, the fund had reached over $1 million, which some say reflects the widespread sympathy for Figoski, an officer who ultimately died doing his job.

NLEOMF is reportedly teaming up with the Department of Justice to propose new law enforcement safety initiatives in an attempt to tackle growing police fatalities.