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Statue of an "officer down" near the Florida Capitol | wikimedia, commons

Police officer gunfire deaths up by 31 percent, report finds

The year is shaping up to be a violent one for the nation's police officers, with gunfire deaths in 2016 up 31 percent through July 7, compared to the same date last year. The data is compiled by the Officer Down Memorial website, which tracks law enforcement deaths and honors the fallen.

Thus far this year, 21 police officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty, compared to 16 last year.

Most recent was Deputy Sheriff David Michel Jr., 50, a nine-year veteran of Louisiana's Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office. Michel died on June 22 after he pulled over in his vehicle in the town of Harvey, Louisiana, and approached a pedestrian around 12:30 p.m.

The suspect, Jerman Neveaux, 19, allegedly pulled a handgun from his waistband and opened fire repeatedly. According to witness reports, the suspect fired on the officer at least once while he was on the ground.

Michel, who was a member of the office's Street Crimes Unit, was taken to a local hospital where he died. The suspect was apprehended after he left the scene on foot.

Neveaux, who was on probation for possession of a stolen firearm when the shooting occurred, has been charged with first degree murder, aggravated assault, and resisting arrest by force or violence, as well as battery on a peace officer.

Sheriff Newell Norman called the shooting of Michel "cold-blooded murder." A neighbor of Michel, in an interview with a local Fox News affiliate, described him as a "great family man, loved his neighborhood, was always proactive helping people, doing the right thing."

Shootings by police shootings have come under greater scrutiny in recent weeks after the shooting death Tuesday of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by two officers at a convenience store, which was captured on cell phone video. According to Baton Rouge police reports, "uniformed officers responded to a disturbance call from a complainant who stated that a black male who was selling music cd’s and wearing a red shirt threatened him with a gun."

Sterling was known to Baton Rouge police with a criminal history that included felony drug offenses and aggravated assault, among others.

Another shooting by police occurred Wednesday in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Philando Castile, a school cafeteria supervisor with no felony criminal record (only minor traffic offenses), died after a police traffic stop. Castile reportedly was shot while sitting inside his car. That shooting also was captured on cell phone video by his girlfriend who was seated next to him and posted the live-streamed incident on Facebook.

Officers in both cases have been placed on administrative leave with pay.

Both of these most recent police shootings have incited mass outrage, including protests outside the governor's mansion in Minnesota Thursday. where Gov. Mark Dayton has asked the Justice Department to investigate.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has also called for a Justice Department investigation. Edwards, a Democrat, two months ago signed into law the state's "Blue Lives Matter" bill, expanding hate crimes protection to law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical responders.

"Coming from a family of law enforcement officers, I have great respect for the work that they do and the risks they take to ensure our safety," Edwards said of the new legislation in a statement. "They deserve every protection that we can give them."

Similar "Blue Lives Matter" bills have been introduced, including one in the Kentucky legislature Wednesday and another in the city of Chicago by Alderman Ed Burke last month.

For police nationwide, overall line of duty deaths (including in traffic accidents or from other, non-shooting causes) are down 17 percent from last year, the Officer Down website data showed. In 2015 as a whole, a total of 39 officers were killed by gunfire and in 2014, 47 died of gunfire injuries. A total of 123 officers died nationwide from all line-of-duty causes in 2015, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

A database compiled by the news outlet, The Guardian, called "The Counted," showed that 561 people nationwide were killed by police and law enforcement thus far in 2016. The website notes that it counts "any deaths arising directly from encounters with law enforcement. This will inevitably include, but will likely not be limited to, people who were shot, tasered and struck by police vehicles as well those who died in police custody."