COVID-19 was leading cause of US duty-related police deaths in 2020, study finds

Two police officers stand in the plaza in front of The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

A newly published study found that COVID-19 was the leading cause of duty-related deaths among law enforcement officers in the United States in 2020. 

According to the data obtained from the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund database for the year 2020, COVID-19 deaths accounted for 62% of the 295 duty-related law enforcement officer deaths.

The study, published in "Policing: An International Journal," also found that 82% of deaths were among Black members of law enforcement and 77% of deaths were among Latinx officers — far higher than the 48% of deaths among White police officers.

The database contained deaths designated as those caused by incidents that occurred while in the line of duty.

To compute the rate of death, researchers from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also obtained data on the total number of law enforcement officers employed in the U.S. for the year 2020 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The team found 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).

"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," the study’s authors wrote.

The majority of the officers who died from COVID-19 were men (94%) over the age of 50 (61.6%) with more than 20 years of service (54%) and resided in Southern states.

One of the study's limitations was its uncertainty of a definitive assessment that the viral infection was acquired specifically through their job. 

"Given the complexity of personal exposures, the percentage of COVID-19 deaths attributed to duty may represent an over or underestimation of the actual value. Therefore, the data should be interpreted cautiously," the study’s authors continued.

Earlier this year, a preliminary report from the database found COVID-19 caused 2021 to be the deadliest year for law enforcement nationwide in almost a century.

RELATED: COVID-19 leading cause of death among U.S. law enforcement in 2021

The report found 301 of the 458 officers killed in the line of duty in 2021 died from the virus. This made COVID-19 the leading cause of death for officers over anything else.

"I think the numbers are staggering when you look at 458 officers killed in the line of duty, 301 [of them] COVID fatalities," said Troy Anderson, executive director in the office of safety and wellness at NLEOMF. "There are a number of COVID deaths from law enforcement agencies around the country that have yet to be reported. And so, we are in-taking those on an almost daily basis."

According to the preliminary report, Florida was among the top seven states with high officer deaths from COVID. The virus killed 43 out of 52 officers, affecting agencies like the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.