(CNSNews.com) - The FBI, citing preliminary statistics, says 51 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2014, an 89 percent increase from the 27 officers feloniously killed in 2013.
While it's bad news that the number is rising, the FBI notes that from 1980-2014, an average of 64 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed each year. The 2013 total, 27, was the lowest during this 35-year period.
The preliminary statistics were released at the start of National Police Week, when thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world gather in Washington, D.C., to honor and remember colleagues who have died in the line of duty.
FBI Director James Comey, in a video message, hailed those who have "made the ultimate sacrifice to try and make their communities safe...and those of you who continue to do this work in the name of those we have lost.”
By region, 17 of the 51 officers died as the result of criminal acts that happened in the South; 14 officers in the West; eight officers each in in the Midwest and Northeast; and four in Puerto Rico.
By circumstance, 11 officers died from injuries inflicted while answering disturbance calls (one of which was a domestic disturbance). Ten officers were conducting traffic pursuits or stops, eight were killed as a result of ambushes (six due to entrapment/premeditated situations and two during unprovoked attacks), and six officers were investigating suspicious persons or circumstances.
Five officers sustained fatal injuries while they were performing investigative activities, four while they were engaged in tactical situations, three officers were handling persons with mental illness, and one officer was slain during a drug-related matter. Three officers were killed while attempting other types of arrests.
Offenders used firearms in 46 of the 51 felonious deaths. These included 32 incidents with handguns, 11 incidents with rifles, and three incidents with shotguns. Four victim officers were killed with vehicles used as weapons, and one was killed with the offender’s hands, fists, or feet).
Thirty-five of the 51 slain officers were confirmed to be wearing body armor at the times of the incidents.
The data released on Monday shows an additional 44 officers were accidentally killed in the line of duty in 2014, five fewer than in 2013.
Twenty-eight of these officers died as a result of automobile accidents, six were in motorcycle accidents, and five were struck by vehicles. Two of the officers were killed in accidental shootings, one from drowning, one from blunt force trauma, and one died as a result of smoke inhalation.
Of the 28 officers who died in automobile accidents, 15 were wearing seatbelts, 10 were not wearing seatbelts (six of whom were ejected from the vehicles), and seatbelt use was not reported for three of the officers who died in crashes.
The FBI said final statistics and complete details for 2014 will be available on the FBI’s website in the fall.
In his message to police, Comey addressed the "especially challenging relationship" that lately exists between law enforcement and minority communities.
"You have chosen to do something that is different than what other people do. You have chosen to do good for a living," Comey said. "I hope you don't lose sight of that, with all the burdens and all the challenges that come with being in law enforcement.
"I think we're at a time where we have an especially challenging relationship between law enforcement and communities that we serve.
"I think it's very, very important for all of us that we do our absolute best to try to see clearly those people we serve and to look for opportunities to have them see us -- see the nature and character of the people who are in law enforcement and why we do the work that we do.
"I'm confident that if we have that conversation, and we have good, clear seeing in both directions, we will heal some of the divisions we're facing now around this country."