COVID-19 claimed the lives of more than 300 police officers in 2021, according to a new report, including four in Wisconsin. Nationally, it was the deadliest year for law enforcement officers in more than nine decades, and the second year in a row that the coronavirus was the leading cause of death.
The National Law Enforcement Museum released its preliminary report on officer fatalities for 2021 on Wednesday. It found 458 members of law enforcement died in the line of duty last year, a 55 percent increase from 2020. According to the report, it's the most since 1930, when 312 officers were killed. The report's totals include federal, state, tribal and local police.
The Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks police deaths, lists four line-of-duty deaths for officers from Wisconsin in 2021, three of whom died from COVID-19. The National Law Enforcement Museum's report also lists three COVID-19 fatalities for Wisconsin. Both resources appear to be missing one officer's death, of a Beloit police officer who died of COVID-19 in November.
The Wisconsin officers who died in the line of duty in 2021 were:
- Chad Christiansen, 49, of Baraboo, a security officer at Volk Field Air National Guard Base who died of COVID-19 in December.
- Daniel Stainbrook, 42, of Hancock, a Wisconsin State Patrol officer who died of COVID-19 in November.
- Daniel Daly, 48, a Beloit police officer who died of COVID-19 in November.
- Joseph Kurer, 26, a Fond du Lac police officer who died of COVID-19 in September.
- Daniel Creighbaum, 51, of Wild Rose, a corrections officer at Redgranite Correctional Institute, who died in April from a fall at the prison.
"For the last two years running, the pandemic has been the single largest cause of law enforcement deaths not only across the country, but here in Wisconsin as well," said Jim Palmer, director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state's largest police union.
Sign up for daily news!
Stay informed with WPR's email newsletter.
Nationally, police unions in some cities have resisted policies that require vaccination against COVID-19. There are few such mandates in Wisconsin. In Madison, which requires city employees to be vaccinated, by last fall more than 96 percent of police department staff had reportedly gotten the shots. The Milwaukee Police Association resisted that city’s vaccine mandate for months, and in late December reached an agreement that requires all its members to be vaccinated by the end of this month or else wear a mask while on duty. At the time, the union president, Andrew Wagner, complained that the agreement was "very restrictive." Wagner did not respond to an interview request.
Palmer, whose union does not include Milwaukee, said his group tries to provide factual information about the threat COVID-19 poses to officers. According to state data, as of December, unvaccinated people were about 13 times more likely to die from the disease than those who are fully vaccinated.
"You can have whatever political view you want," Palmer said, "but it's pretty clear that COVID-19 is very real, and it’s something that needs to be taken seriously."
While COVID-19 claimed by far the most lives, 2021 also saw a dramatic increase in traffic deaths, and national data showed this included police as well. The report found 58 officers died in crashes, an increase of 38 percent from the previous year.
The national report found 84 officers died from assaults, including 62 who were shot — a 38 percent increase from the number shot and killed in 2020. Palmer's organization tracks shootings by police in Wisconsin. He said 68 percent of police shootings last year happened after the person confronted a police officer with a gun. The Wisconsin Department of Justice lists seven fatal shootings by police in 2021; a Washington Post database of police shootings lists 10.