The number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty dropped sharply in 2017, marking the second-lowest toll in more than 50 years, reported the USA Today.
As of Thursday, 128 officers have died in the line of duty this year, with 44 shot and killed. That's down 10% from 2016, when 143 officers died, with 66 gunned down, according to data released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit aimed at honoring officers and improving safety.
The only other year with fewer deaths in the past five decades was 2013, when 116 officers were killed.
"This is one of those good-news, bad-news situations," said Craig Floyd, president and chief executive of the fund. "On one hand, you had 128 officers who made the ultimate sacrifice, showing the cost of public safety, but for the first time since 2013, the number of deaths has actually declined."
Reasons for the drop could range from advanced safety gear such as bulletproof vests, better training, better relationships and reduced violence in communities — or just 2017 being an outlier, experts say.
"It's definitely a good sign but if it's a trend, we'll have to see," said Geoffrey P. Alpert, a professor at the University of South Carolina and a researcher on high-risk police activities. "We're starting to see the impact of all this new training and equipment, and a shift because of the overall concern for officer safety."
While shootings played a big role, traffic accidents caused the largest number of deaths. Crashes killed 47 officers this year, down 15% from 2016. A number of factors — including enhanced policies that limit vehicle pursuits and speeding and the "move-over law," which requires drivers to slow down and switch lanes when an officer is pulled over — could be behind the drop, experts say.