Mississippi ranks high in police officer deaths per capita

Mississippi ranks high in police officer deaths per capita
Across the nation, nearly 1,800 police officers have been killed in the line of duty in the last 10 years./Photo credit: WDAM

MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - Across the nation, nearly 1,800 police officers have been killed in the line of duty in the last 10 years.

Mississippi ranks near the top of the list, being one of the deadliest states for law enforcement officers.

According to ODMP.org (Officers Down Memorial Page), 31.8 percent of law enforcement officers are killed by gunfire.

"I think across states where gunfire is the leading cause of among police officers, I think we look at the gun culture and the accessibility to firearms," University of Southern Mississippi Criminal Justice Professor Alan Thompson said. Thompson is also a former police officer.

Mississippi is a leading state in the nation when it comes to owning guns, alongside Alaska.

"It's not uncommon for police officers to encounter individuals who are armed and again, keep in mind that every time the police encounter someone there's always at least one gun present and that's the weapon of the police officer," Thompson said. "Data indicates, longitudinal data indicates that Mississippi tends to rank near the top of all states regarding duty related deaths in law enforcement."

Statistics from ODMP.org:

  • 31.8 percent of deaths from gunfire
  • 19.8 percent of deaths from auto accidents
  • 8.1 percent of deaths from heart attacks
  • 6.8 percent of deaths from vehicular assaults

"While some officer deaths are purely accidental, many of the police deaths reported around the country are felonious losses, these killings are highest in Mississippi and Alaska," according to FBI statistics.

Those stats are broken down in felonious deaths per 1,000 officers.

As of late November 2016, Mississippi lost one law enforcement officer, Special Agent Lee Tart, with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. Tart was killed Feb. 20 as he and other members of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety SWAT team attempted to make entry into a home during a barricade situation near Iuka, MS.

"Although we see a relatively low number of deaths in Mississippi, by comparison to those larger states when we look at those deaths based upon the population of the state or more accurately at the number of law enforcement officers in the state, we do see that the risk in the numbers are relatively high here in Mississippi compared to other states," Thompson said.

In 2015, Mississippi lost five law enforcement officers and one sheriff's department K9.

Thompson strives to teach his criminal justice students the realistic aspects of policing so they know what they are getting in to for their future.

The statistic of Mississippi ranking near the top of the nation at police officer deaths per capita shocked some of them.

"It's very disheartening to hear honestly, regardless of what state it is, at this day in age officer deaths are going up, I think we need to take that into account, it definitely sends red alarms," USM Junior Jordan Ricks said.

USM Senior Beverly Andrews said, "It kind of brings back to reality that policing is a serious job, it's not something that you just wake up and kind of decide to do, it really kind of makes you want to really have that dedication to serve others no matter the cost of what it may bring."

Both Andrews and Ricks are both pursuing a career in law enforcement.

"Professor Thompson's class offers realism, the selfless service of officers, what may happen on the job, what does happen on the job, and to hear that before you go to the academy, before you see it first hand, is key in choosing the criminal justice field," Ricks said.

Thompson said that is one of his main goals is to provide students with a realistic view of what they can expect.

"Police officers are simply going to work, trying to serve the community and at times for officers that can have fatal consequences," Thompson said.