Population-based estimate of trauma-related deaths for law enforcement personnel: Risks for death are higher and increasing over time

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Trauma-related deaths remain an important public health problem. One group susceptible to death due to traumatic mechanisms is US law enforcement (LE). We hypothesized that LE officers experienced a higher chance of violent death compared with the general US population and that risks have increased over time.

METHODS

The National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health National Occupational Mortality Surveillance is a population-based survey of occupational deaths. It includes data for workers who died during 1985 to 1998 in one of 30 US states (EARLY period). Additional deaths were added from 23 US states in 1999, 2003 to 2004, 2007 to 2010 (LATE period). Mortality rates are estimated by calculating proportionate mortality ratios (PMR). A PMR above 100 is considered to exceed the average background risk for all occupations. All adults older than 18 years whose primary occupation was listed as “law enforcement worker” were included in the analysis.

RESULTS

Law enforcement personnel were more likely to die from an injury compared with the general population (Fig. 1). The overall PMR for injury in EARLY was 111 (95% confidence interval [CI], 108–114; p < 0.01), and for LATE was 118 (95% CI, 110–127; p < 0.01). Four mechanisms of death reached statistical significance: motor vehicle traffic (MVT)-driver, MVT-other, intentional self-harm, and assault/homicide. The highest PMR in EARLY was associated with firearms (PMR, 272; 95% CI, 207–350; p < 0.01). The highest PMR in LATE was associated with death due to being a driver in an MVT (PMR, 194; 95% CI, 169–222; p < 0.01). There were differences in risk of death by race and sex. White females had the highest PMR due to assault and homicide (PMR, 317; 95% CI, 164–554; p < 0.01). All groups had similar risks of death due to intentional self-harm (PMR, 130–171).

CONCLUSION

The risk of death for US LE officers is high and increasing over time, suggesting an at-risk population that requires further interventions. Targeted efforts based on risk factors, such as sex and race, may assist with the development of prevention programs for this population.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE

Epidemiologic study, level II.

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