Crime & Justice

California led the nation in police officer deaths in 2014

The badge of LAPD officer is covered with a black band on honor of  Marine Staff Sgt. Joshua J. Cullins whose body arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010. Cullins, a LAPD Officer was  killed Oct. 18 while on active military duty with the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
The badge of LAPD officer is covered with a black band on honor of Marine Staff Sgt. Joshua J. Cullins whose body arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010. Cullins, a LAPD Officer was killed Oct. 18 while on active military duty with the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Chris Carlson/AP

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After four decades during which police fatalities generally fell across the country, deaths ticked up again this year, according to a national group which tracks such things.

California had the highest number of fatalities in the nation - 14.  Last year California was second to Texas with 10 deaths.

It’s the most California officer fatalities in one year since 2006, when there were 17. Only two California officers died in 2012.

The statistics come from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a group dedicated to fallen police officers. The organization released its annual report Tuesday.

Nationally, police officer deaths went up 24 percent this year.  The number of officers killed by gunfire increased 56 percent, according to the report.  That was the leading cause of death nationally for officers, at 50 deaths, closely followed by traffic collisions at 49 deaths.

“We issue this report each year as a stark reminder that some 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers go out each and every day putting their lives on the line for our safety and protection,” the group’s CEO, Craig Floyd, said in a statement.

In California, the leading cause of officer fatalities this year was traffic crashes: five officers were killed in car crashes, two were killed on motorcycles, and a vehicle fatally struck one officer. Five others officers were shot to death.

The LAPD had the most deaths in California this year - three officers killed in traffic collisions.

But it's the California Highway Patrol that has lost the most law enforcement officers since 2000: 31 CHP officers have been killed in the line of duty.

Twenty-four of those officers were killed in some kind of traffic collision:  a car crash, a motorcycle wreck, or were struck by a vehicle while standing alongside the road.

“The minute they leave their cars, they are exposing themselves to danger,” said Karen Youngstrom, whose husband, a CHP officer, was killed in 2012.

Officer Kenyon Youngstrom, 37, was shot in the head during a traffic stop along a Bay Area freeway, I-680.  Youngstrom had served seven years with the CHP and was an Army captain before that.

His wife Karen, 39, said she tried not to dwell on the fact that her husband, and father of four, had a risky and difficult job.

“He loved his job so much,” she said. “I don’t think it ever passed through mind to say, ‘Hey, don’t do this anymore,’ because he truly loved what he did.” 

On Thursday, a Rose Parade float will feature Youngstrom’s CHP portrait to honor him as an organ donor. After his death, his organ donations helped saved the lives of four people.

Karen Youngstrom said knowing that makes her husband’s death less bitter.  

“It doesn’t feel like such a waste because he’s able to go on in a way,” she said.

Youngstrom and her four children will be in Pasadena to attend the parade. She said when her husband’s float glides by, she hopes people will consider two things: How dangerous it is to be a police officer.   And registering to become an organ donor in case you should meet an untimely death.