“As we reflect on 2021, let’s honor the memories of those who lost their lives protecting others,” Wray wrote in an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “Let’s commit to making communities safer, finding ways to improve interactions between law enforcement and those they serve, holding everyone to the high standards befitting men and women in uniform, and valuing those who do their jobs with honor. “
Wray specifically named four officers who were killed in the line of duty in the last week of 2021, including Baltimore Officer Keona Holley, who was shot in an apparent ambush on Dec. 16 and died on Christmas Eve.
He also named Wayne County Sheriff’s Deputy Sean Riley, who was killed during a call for assistance on Dec. 30; Bradley Police Department Sgt. Marlene Rittmanic, who was killed on Dec. 30 while trying to find the owner of dogs abandoned in a vehicle; and Cleveland Police Officer Shane Bartek, who was killed in an attempted carjacking on New Year’s Eve.
“These four murders brought the total number of officers feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2021 to 73, the highest annual number since the 9/11 attacks,” Wray wrote. “That’s the equivalent of one officer murdered every five days. In a year when homicides and violent crime reached distressing levels, this 20-year high hasn’t received the attention it deserves.”
Nearly half of the 73 officers killed did not engage with their assailants before being attacked, Wray said.
Additionally, three of the FBI’s own agents were killed in 2021, including Special Agents Laura Schwartzenberger and Daniel Alfin, who were murdered while investigating crimes against children, and FBI Task Force Officer Greg Ferency, who was killed in an ambush outside an FBI office.
Last year marked the deadliest for line-of-duty police and law enforcement officers since 1930, with 458 officers dying in 2021. COVID-19 was the leading cause of death and firearms-related deaths were the second-leading cause.
COVID-19 accounted for 301 deaths, or 66%, of the 458 fatalities reported last year, according to preliminary statistics released Tuesday by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). The NLEOMF recorded 62 firearms-related officer deaths – 16 less than the FBI’s count.
The 458 officer deaths surpassed the 1930 record of 312 fatalities and reflects a 55% jump in line-of-duty deathscompared to the 295 officer deaths in 2020. The figure accounts for all line-of-duty deaths through Dec. 31, 2021, and represents law enforcement officers at the federal, state, county and municipal levels, as well as those in the tribal, campus, military and territorial sectors.
Fox News’ Stephanie Pagones contributed to this report.