2016 deadliest in 5 years for law enforcement officers

Florida lost 7 officers in past year

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Nassau County deputy was one of 135 officers killed in the line of duty in the United States this year -- a number that marks the highest total since 177 officers were killed in 2011.

Nassau County Deputy Eric Oliver was died just before Thanksgiving when he was hit by a car while chasing a suspect across a highway.

Of those killed in 2016, seven were Florida officers, including one K-9 officer, according to a report released Thursday by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

“Every single time an officer falls, our communities lose so much more than a public servant. We lose a friend, a family members, a loved one… but most of all, we lose heroes who were willing to sacrifice everything to keep us safe,” said Coconut Creek Police Chief Butch Arenal, president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. “That kind of sacrifice isn’t common, but it’s the only reason we become law enforcement officers. These numbers represent true tragedy.”

That tragedy is also affecting the recruitment of new officers, said Florida Police Chiefs Association executive director Amy Mercer.

“We’re hearing from family members of law enforcement officers that they scared. They’re concerned for the life of their family member being in the law enforcement profession,” Mercer said. “When you see a police officer, go up and thank them and let them know you are out their supporting them.”

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said the increase in deaths is most likely because of police-involved shootings and protests.

“You had some of the same things happening in the '70s that you have going on today,” Smith said. “There was very strong anti-government and anti-police sentiment back then, and we're seeing the same thing over the past few years.”

The report pointed to a noticeable rise in ambush-style killings of law enforcement officers.

According to the NLEOMF, firearms-related incidents were the number one cause of death in 2016, with 64 officers shot and killed across the country -- a 56 percent increase over the 41 officers killed by gunfire in 2015. Of those 64 fatalities, 21 were ambush-style attacks -- the highest total in more than two decades.

Arenal said everyone should be outraged by those numbers.

“If this continues, who will be our protectors?” Arenal said. “It is becoming much more difficult to recruit good men and women to law enforcement because their own communities may turn against them. Our national and state leaders should join us in doing everything in our power to condemn these actions.”

The following Florida officers lost their lives in 2016:

Deputy Eric James Oliver, Nassau County Sheriff's Office
End of watch: Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016
Cause of death: Struck by vehicle

K9 Forest, Volusia County Sheriff's Office
End of watch: Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016
Cause of death: Gunfire

Officer Jorge Sanchez, Miami Police Department
End of watch: Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016
Cause of death: Automobile crash

Deputy Scott Williams, Taylor County Sheriff's Office
End of watch: Monday, Oct. 31, 2016
Cause of Death: Automobile crash

Sgt. Jorge Ramos, Florida Department of Corrections
End of watch: Sunday, May 1, 2016
Cause of death: Heart attack

Deputy John Robert Kotfila Jr., Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
End of watch: Saturday, March 12, 2016
Cause of death: Vehicular assault

Special Agent Scott McGuire, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
End of watch: Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016
Cause of death: Vehicular assault

The statistics are based on preliminary data compiled by the NLEOMF and do not represent a final or complete list of individual officers who will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 2016.