The number of law enforcement officers killed by firearms in the U.S. jumped by 56 percent this year and included 15 ambush assaults, according to a report released Tuesday.
The annual report by the nonprofit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found that 50 officers were killed by guns this year, compared to 32 in 2013.
In all, the report found that 126 federal, local, tribal and territorial officers were killed in the line of duty in 2014. That's a 24 percent jump from last year's 102 on-duty deaths. Shootings were the leading cause of officer deaths in 2014 followed by traffic-related fatalities, at 49.
"Let’s remember there are 900,000 men and women in law enforcement who go out each and every day facing the dangers the rest of us wouldn’t want to deal with. And some of them didn’t make it home this year, 126 families ripped apart because these officers died in the performance of duty," Craig Floyd, chairman and CEO of National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, said in an interview with NBC Owned Television Stations. "We owe these officers at the very least, remembrance, honor for those who have served and sacrificed, support (for) their families, the survivors left behind – and (to) do everything possible to make it safer for those who continue to serve."
The sharp increase in gun-related deaths among officers followed a dramatic dip in 2013, when the figure fell to levels not seen since the 19th century. This year's uptick comes amid increased tension between police and the public following the high-profile deaths of unarmed black men by white police officers, including those of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Still, even with the increase, this year's gun death tally remains below average for the past decade and the total fatality count for 2014 is one of the lowest in 50-plus years.
The states that saw the most officer deaths were California, at 14, Texas, at 11, and New York, at nine. Florida followed with six deaths, and Georgia had five, according to the report.
The 15 ambush assaults on police officers this year compares to just five in 2013, but matched 2012 for the highest total since 1995, the report said.
Floyd told NBC Owned Television Stations that officers are now "running up against a more cold, calculated killer – people with a lack of respect for government in general, law enforcement in particular." He cited both backlash to the Ferguson and Staten Island decisions, and the June slayings of two Las Vegas police officers shot point-blank in a pizza restaurant by a couple who authorities said held anti-government views.
"These are two self-proclaimed sovereign citizen types who hated the government, viewed the government of the U.S. as their enemy," he said. "And who is the most vulnerable, the most visible symbol of government in America? It’s the uniformed police officer patrolling the streets of our nation, enforcing the laws of our country."
Among the ambush assaults were the fatal attacks on two police officers in New York City on Dec. 20. Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were gunned down in their patrol car by Ismaaiyl Brinsley after Brinsley had made threatening posts online, including a vow to put "wings on pigs'' and references to the Garner and Brown cases.
After shooting the officers, Brinsley ran into a subway station and killed himself. Police said he was troubled and had shot and wounded an ex-girlfriend in Baltimore earlier that day.
NBC Owned Television Stations' Jon Sonnheim and Torey Van Oot contributed to this report. Graphic by Nelson Hsu.