More on-duty officers in Louisiana have been shot and killed this year than in any year in the past decade, according to statistics compiled by The Advocate.
And Louisiana accounts for some 20 percent of all nationwide officer shooting deaths this year, based on a review of information compiled by the website Officer Down Memorial Page.
The latest came Monday, when Senior Trooper Steven Vincent, of Louisiana State Police, died after he was shot in the head by a man he was trying to help in Calcasieu Parish the day prior, police said, bringing this year’s tally to five. Earlier this month, Shreveport Police Officer Thomas LaValley, a native of St. Amant, was gunned down while responding to a suspicious person call.
No on-duty officers were shot dead in the state in 2014.
“The fact is, we’re going to a lot more police funerals this year,” said Mike Anderson, special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Orleans division, which oversees the entire state.
The increase could owe to a growing frustration with police, mixed with social and economic pressures that Louisianians face in particular, he said.
“Nationally you’re seeing a significant amount of tension between communities and law enforcement,” he said. “If you combine that with a lot of the challenges out there for the community, (including) access to guns, mental illness, unemployment, poverty … it almost brews a cocktail of frustration that comes at a boiling point where law enforcement unfortunately is at the end of the line for a lot of those individuals.”
Not all law enforcement experts were ready to offer a conclusion Monday about the uptick in officer deaths.
“We don’t want any of these. We pray daily that we don’t have anybody, any families, any fallen officers to honor,” said Joey Watson, executive director of the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement.
“I realize there’s an increase, but I can’t explain it,” he said.
Nationally, cop killings are not necessarily rising, said Chris Cosgriff, a Virginia-based police officer and the founder and executive director of Officer Down Memorial Page, which gathers detailed information on fallen officers.
“Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why numbers jump. Right now there’s nothing indicative of why Louisiana has been having such a bad year,” he said.
Preliminary information on Cosgriff’s site shows 24 gun deaths of officers in the U.S. this year, and 47 last year. The FBI, which has not yet released recent statistics on “felonious killings” of officers, cited 27 such deaths in 2013 nationally, and 49 in 2012.
A spike came in 2011, with 72 cop killings in the U.S., according to FBI numbers.
“It was an especially challenging time,” Steven Groeninger, of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial fund, said of the 2011 surge. His organization also tracks officer deaths.
“We saw the beginning of an anti-government, anti-authority sentiment. That carried through the following year, and there still seems to be a good deal of that in play,” he said.
The last time Louisiana saw five or more shooting deaths of on-duty cops was in 2004, when six officers were killed by gunfire while working. In addition to Vincent’s and LaValley’s deaths this year, three other on-duty officers in Louisiana were killed: U.S. Marshal Josie Wells, Housing Authority of New Orleans Police Officer James Bennett Jr. and New Orleans police Officer Daryle Holloway.
Cosgriff said that unless a cop killer makes some sort of explicit anti-police statement, it’s impossible to know his or her motivations, which in turn makes it hard to compile data illustrating exactly what’s behind the slayings.
Still, he acknowledged that media attention on perceived tensions between police and the public — most notably in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri — has made officers more cautious.
“We are obviously looking over our shoulder a little more just to make sure no one is sneaking up on us,” he said.
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier online version of this story incorrectly reported there were no officer shooting deaths in 2013. There was one such death. The Advocate regrets the error.