TAMPA, Fla.- With just two split-second shots, the officers crumpled to the grass.
There was no fight, no struggle, no time to react. Tampa officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab were killed during a routine traffic stop last June, their final moments captured on a police cruiser's dashcam video.
They are among six police officers in the Tampa Bay area who have been killed in the past 18 months. So far this year, 51 officers in the U.S. have lost their lives, a 20 percent rise from the same time last year. In all of 2010, a total of 162 officers died in the line of duty, up from 117 in 2009.
The nation's most recent police death happened March 22, when an Athens, Ga., police officer was shot during a traffic stop.
That same week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder talked about his concerns over the rising number of police officer slayings. Holder wants to try several approaches for reversing the upward trend, including additional training, grant money for bulletproof vests and increased federal sentences for felons.
But as the recently released video of officers Curtis and Kocab showed, preventing officer deaths isn't simple. Officers can be well trained, don vests and still be killed.
"No matter how vigilant, brave and careful we are during the performance of our duties, we are still vulnerable," said Tampa Capt. Brian Dugan, during a recent dedication of a slain police officers' memorial in front of his department's headquarters.
There are 31 names on the memorial, which added a blue laser light - to represent the "thin blue line" of the law enforcement family - that will beam skyward for several hours each night. Kocab and Curtis were the two most recent additions to the granite statue.
"I don't think there's a snap answer," said St. Petersburg Police Maj. Mike Puetz, a spokesman for the department that saw three of it's officers gunned down during two incidents this year. "The prudent thing is not to do any knee-jerk response and to analyze circumstances under which the events took place. Look at how the shootings might be averted, the tactics, the procedures, the policies.'
One of Holder's ideas is to give departments more money for bulletproof vests - but that grant money requires departments to have a mandatory vest policy. St. Petersburg and Tampa don't require officers to wear vests; some officers dislike wearing the armor in the Florida heat.
Of the six officers killed in the Tampa Bay area, only one wasn't wearing a vest.
"Our last officers who were murdered were wearing a bullet-proof vest, so it's not a guarantee," said Laura McElroy, a Tampa Police spokeswoman.
Puetz said his department will review whether wearing vests should be mandatory for officers.
A 2009 Department of Justice study showed that 45 percent of agencies nationwide have a written policy requiring officers to wear body armor, yet most officer deaths resulted from being shot in an unprotected area.
McElroy said there is no move to reconsider the department's policy, and the head of the police union that represents Tampa officers is lukewarm about enforcing such a rule.
Greg Stout, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said he supports a mandatory minimum sentence for felons in possession of a firearm. But he concedes that even that might make a big difference.
"Homicide is the hardest crime to predict," Stout said. "The way I look at it also, it's almost an outright assault on government. I can't give you an honest answer. I wish I could. If you kill a cop, in my opinion, you're attacking the very fabric of government."
Dennis Kenney, a former Florida law enforcement officer and a current professor at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that it's unclear whether there is an actual trend of more officers dying on the street.
"If you go back to the '70s, those particularly were fairly tense conflict years," he said.
Yet Kenney and others have noticed more anger directed towards police - interesting, Kenney said, because overall homicides are down.
"What this is all going to mean is that police are going to have to protect themselves," he said. "Shootings of police are up and shootings by police are up. It's a fairly negative downward spiral we're on."
Kenney said there is one solution - albeit an unpopular one: gun control
"There's a ready availability, an increasingly more potent level of weapons," he said. "Police are on the front edge of having to confront that and we're seeing that right now."
(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)