Published: Jul 21, 2010 10:20 AM EDT
Updated: Jul 21, 2010 7:20 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of U.S. police officers who died in

the line of duty is up 43 percent so far this year, according to an

organization that honors fallen law enforcement officials.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund says that if

the trend continues, 2010 could become one of the deadliest years

for U.S. police agencies in two decades.

The fund was to release preliminary data Wednesday showing that

87 officers died in the line of duty between Jan. 1 and June 30.

That's up sharply from 61 officers killed during the first six

months of last year.

The 2010 deaths were spread across 36 states and Puerto Rico,

with California, Texas and Florida showing the most fatalities.

Other states on the list included Maryland, where a state trooper

was fatally shot June 11, and Virginia. Five officers working for

federal agencies also died in various states.

Firearm and traffic deaths jumped in the last six months,

compared with the same period in 2009.

Last year, overall officer fatalities had reached their lowest

level in five decades.

"We were hoping to see those numbers continue to go down,"

said Kevin P. Morison, a fund spokesman. "It points to the dangers

officers continue to face."

Almost half the deaths came from car and motorcycle crashes and

officers being hit outside their vehicles. Five officers who were

struck on the road died during a three-week period last month in

California, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Of the 31 officers killed by gunfire, six died in "cluster

killings" - three separate shootings that targeted multiple

officers.

Eugene O'Donnell, professor of police studies at John Jay

College of Criminal Justice in New York, said the number of officer

fatalities fluctuates from year to year. However, he said he has

noticed an "alarming frequency" of people targeting police.

"There has been a spate of particularly brutal and senseless

attacks on the police," said O'Donnell, a former police officer

and prosecutor in New York. "It seems to me, an unprecedented

level of disrespect and willingness to challenge police officers

all over the place."

He said a rise in mental health problems and scathing criticism

of police, such as the comments found on some blogs, could be

fueling the brazenness and disregard for authority.

John Firman, director of research at the Alexandria, Va.-based

International Association of Chiefs of Police, said his group is

working to reduce rampant gun violence to which officers find

themselves responding.

In addition, the association is working with the memorial fund,

the FBI and other groups to create a Center for the Prevention of

Violence Against Police to study the issue in depth. "We think

this is awfully urgent," Firman said.

The memorial fund released the report with Concerns of Police

Survivors Inc., a group that helps families of fallen officers. The

fund adds the names of officers killed in the line of duty to its

monument in Washington.