72 police killed in 2011 in U.S.; up 29 percent

A funeral for a fallen police officer in 2011
CBS News

Thousands of police officers will be in Washington, D.C., this week to honor those who lost their lives in the line of duty.

CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports that on Monday, the FBI released figures for 2011 showing a disturbing increase in violence on police officers.

His name is among the most recent etched in the granite of the National Law Enforcement Officers memorial: Virginia Tech patrolman Deriek Crouse was shot and killed last December during a routine traffic stop. Crouse was one of 72 officers killed across America in what was an awful year for police deaths.

The first gunshots of 2011 rang out on New Year's Day at an Ohio trailer park. A deputy was killed. The shootings continued from there.

An officer was gunned down in a standoff in Wisconsin. Two more died in a shootout in Miami. And three were killed in Saint Petersburg, Fla., a city that had not suffered a fatal police shooting in 30 years.

While no cops were killed in Los Angeles, Police Chief Charlie Beck says attacks on his officers jumped 22 percent in 2011.

"That is the only major crime area where we saw an increase in Los Angeles was attacks on police officers," Beck said. "It is really hard to say [why it is happening]. Many times it is people who have decided that they have nothing more to gain, nothing to live for."

Chief Beck says police are often confronted by heavily-armed and brazen suspects.

"We have a lot of gang members who are desperate not to return to prison. And they will engage police officers," Beck said.

The 72 police killings marked a 29 percent increase over the 56 officer deaths recorded in 2010.

Guns were used in 63 of the police homicides, and more officers died in the South than in any other region.

Perhaps most troubling, 49 of the killings, or about two-thirds, involved officers who were wearing body armor.

Criminologists say the jump in police killings is a random event that cannot be explained. And they dispute the conventional wisdom that violence against police spikes when the economy sputters.

The FBI also reports that 50 police officers were killed last year in accidents, but that is actually 22 fewer accidental deaths than the year before.