More officers killed in firearm attacks in 2016 than 2015

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Nearly twice as many law enforcement officers were killed in firearm-related incidents during the first six months of 2016 than the same period in 2015, according to a new report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Between January and July, 32 officers across the United States were killed with firearms, compared to just 18 deaths during those months in 2015, according to the report.

Total officer fatalities were up slightly over the first half of 2016 - 67 this year compared to 62 in 2015 - but are still lower than most midyear totals in the past 15 years.

After firearms, traffic accidents were the second-most-common cause of death for officers, according to the report. Of the 67 officers who died, 46 were feloniously killed, while 21 died in noncriminal circumstances, like job-related illnesses.

The first half of 2016 also saw a significant increase in the number of officers targeted in ambush-style attacks. While only three officers were killed in such attacks in 2015, so far this year 14 officers have been slain in ambushes.

Five officers were killed on July 7 in Dallas when a sniper opened fire during a Black Lives Matter rally, and another three officers were killed 10 days later in a similar attack in Baton Rouge, La.

In Chattanooga, police Chief Fred Fletcher said the July 16, 2015, terrorist attack prompted the department to review some of the department's equipment and training, well before this year's ambush attacks on officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

During the July 2015 attack, five Chattanooga police officers shot and killed a 24-year-old gunman who had opened fire on the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway. One police officer was shot and wounded by the gunman, who also killed five service members and wounded one more.

That day exposed a need for officers to receive better training on open-field active shooter situations, Fletcher said. The officers were well-trained to handle active shooters inside buildings and in tight spaces, but were less prepared to face a shooter in an open environment, so the department created that new training.

Additionally, Fletcher said he ensured that any officer who wanted to carry and train on a patrol rifle was able to do so.

He noted that aggravated assaults against Chattanooga police officers almost doubled in 2015 compared to 2014. Police recorded 29 such assaults in 2014, compared to 54 in 2015. So far in 2016, there have been nine, according to police records.

On July 26, the Chattanooga City Council agreed to give the police department $109,000 to upgrade officer body armor. The new armor will be able to withstand typical rifle rounds, Fletcher said.

"[Our current body armor] protects for high-caliber handguns, but it is virtually a T-shirt when it encounters rifle rounds," Fletcher said. "Until recently you would have had to carry heavy armor, like what our SWAT carries, to have protection against rifle rounds. Now, technology has produced items that are smaller and lighter and can go into our vests."

The police department also is planning physical upgrades to security at its headquarters on Amnicola Highway.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or with tips or story ideas. Follow @ShellyBradbury.