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COVID was the leading cause of law enforcement deaths in 2022 for third year in a row: Report

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(NEW YORK) — COVID-19 remained the leading cause of law enforcement deaths in 2022 despite the number attributed to the virus dramatically declining.

A new report released Wednesday by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund looked at preliminary data and found that 226 federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers died last year while in the line of duty.

Of those deaths, 70 can be attributed to COVID-19. However, this is an 83% decline compared to the 405 officers who died from COVID-19-related complications in 2021.

“While America’s law enforcement officers are still battling the deadly effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant reduction in such overall deaths, likely attributed to reduced infection rates and the broad availability and use of vaccinations,” the report read.

Marcia Ferranto, CEO of NLEOMF, told ABC News to recognize an officer line of duty death from COVID as such, each case is reviewed by a medical team and then by a group of 13 law enforcement peers.

“At that point, it is determined whether this would be considered a line of duty death,” she said. “At this point, for 2022, we’re looking at recognizing 70 of these COVID-related cases as official line of duty deaths and each one, tragic.”

In 2021, 586 officers died in the line of duty, a 61% decline year-over-year, that can be attributed directly to the reduction of COVID-19 deaths.

According to the report, firearms-related incidents were the second-highest cause of death in 2022, followed by traffic-related incidents and other.

The “other” category included health-related deaths including heart attacks, stroke and effects from the September 11 attacks as well as accidents including aircraft crashes, falling objects, fires and falling to their deaths.

The report found that Texas had the highest number of law enforcement COVID-19 deaths with 16, followed by Illinois with six, New York with five, Alabama with four and Oklahoma and Tennessee with four each.

Overall, of the 226 fatalities, 204 were male and 22 were female. The average age was 44 years old with an average of 15 years of service. Additionally, each officer left an average of two children behind.

“These numbers bring it close to home and really humanize these men and women, these incredible men and women who are choosing law enforcement as their profession,” Ferranto said.

She said an investment in officer safety and wellness programs can hopefully help drive down these numbers even further in 2023.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, only has the virus been the leading cause of death among law enforcement officers but firefighters and other protection service employees had the occupations with the highest death rates from COVID-19.

According to a recent report published by the National Center for Health Statistics — a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — those with protective service occupations had the highest COVID-19 death rate at 60.3 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2020.

This was twice as high as the overall workers’ COVID-19 death rate in 2020, which sits at 28.6 per 100,000.

The authors of the report said this was likely attributed to protective service employees not having jobs that allow them to stay at home as well as working in proximity to others — both colleagues and the public — increasing their risk of infection.

One of those deaths was Niagara Falls Police Department detective Kristina Zell, who passed away from a COVID-related illness in November 2022.

According to local affiliate WKBW, Zell began her career with the NFPD in March 2000 and worked her way up from patrol officer to a detective specializing in sex crime investigations.

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