For law enforcement in Minnesota, the slaying of two police officers and a paramedic in Burnsville last weekend serves as another bleak reminder: Their line of work is dangerous.

Lately it's becoming more so — most commonly during responses to domestic disturbance calls like the one that precipitated the triple homicide last Sunday.

Reported assault incidents against officers across Minnesota are up 160% from a decade ago — a metric including everything from intimidation, biting and punching to an assault with a deadly weapon— according to data tracked by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Officers have reported at least 3,400 assaults in Minnesota since 2021, with a 10% increase last year, according to the BCA data. Ninety-four occurred last month, slightly behind the number reported in January 2023.

Deadly attacks make up only a small fraction of the assaults. The killing of Burnsville police officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge, both 27, brings Minnesota's total fatal assaults of officers to four since 2020. That's the same number that occurred in the entire first decade of the 2000s, but roughly a quarter of police murders in the 1970s, state data show, painting a complicated picture of how violence against law enforcement has ebbed and flowed over the past half-century.

The recent Minnesota data tracks with a trend emerging across the United States: Killings of police are down, but law enforcement are reporting more overall assaults.

"This is unacceptable in a democratic country," said Maki Haberfeld, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

Those who study policing say there is no single explanation for what is driving the attacks. They say the increase tracks with a surge in violent crime and the COVID-19 pandemic, along with anti-police sentiment, staffing crises in major law enforcement agencies and a rise in gun ownership.

"Gun violence against law enforcement tends to follow a similar pattern for violent crime in the general population," said John Shjarback, professor at Rowan University's Department of Law and Justice Studies. "And 2020 was the single largest increase in terms of national homicide in our country's history."

Police assaults in Minnesota

The killings of Elmstrand, Ruge and 40-year-old firefighter and paramedic Adam Finseth are still under investigation, but officials say the three men responded to a domestic assault call early Sunday, which led to a police standoff with seven children trapped inside a home.

Shannon Cortez Gooden, 38, shot and killed the officers and Finseth, who attempted to render aid. Gooden eventually turned the gun on himself, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner. Another officer, Sgt. Adam Medlicott, was also shot, and is recovering from noncritical injuries, city officials said.

"Our police officers and our fire paramedics, they come to work every day, they do it willingly, they know that they might have to give up their life for their partner's, for someone else," said Burnsville Police Chief Tanya Schwartz in a news conference Sunday, as emergency responders from across the metro gathered to salute the slain men. "They know they have to give up their life sometimes, and they do it anyways."

The triple slaying marks one of very few times more than one officer was killed in Minnesota in a single incident.

Six Minnesota police officers were killed on duty from 2010-2019, according to FBI and BCA data.

The state had not seen a police officer killed for five years when, in 2021, Red Lake Police Officer Ryan Andrew Bialke was shot during a welfare check. In 2023, Pope County Sheriff Deputy Josh Owen was shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance call. Owen's killing was among nine instances of officers struck by gunfire in the region, also including North Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa, since April 2023. Five other officers were killed in that span.

About 30% of all assaults on Minnesota police occurred during domestic disturbance responses.

Aggravated assaults — usually involving a deadly weapon— against Minnesota police jumped nearly 20% from 2021 to 2023, and comprised about a quarter of total attacks. Officers were also fired upon about 60 times in 2023, up from 40 times a couple years ago.

A national trend

In the United States, being a police officer is more dangerous than the average civilian profession.

From 2020 to 2022, the combined rate of accidental and intentional deaths of police officers jumped from 13 to 16 fatalities per 100,000 officers. That makes policing four times as deadly as the national average rate of fatalities among civilian professions, though some jobs, like logging, driving and construction still have significantly higher fatality rates.

High-profile acts of violence against law enforcement show how quickly a call can go sideways, such as the attack on two New York City officers in Times Square captured on video last month.

Compared to other western nations, like Scotland and England, the United States has seen incremental rises in violence against police in recent years, "but they're certainly catching up," said Garth den Heyer, a New Zealand-based professor who teaches courses on policing and homeland security at Arizona State University.

Due to the availability of guns, more assaults in the United States end in death, several criminologists said.

"This is an American phenomenon," Shjarback said. "The same level of police officers are not shot and killed in many other countries around the world. So we are unique in that American police officers are at a heightened risk."

Since 2010, at least 750 law enforcement officers have been murdered in the line of duty nationwide, according to the FBI. Several studies say a vast majority of firearm assaults on police were nonfatal.

The pandemic years of 2020-2022 saw 180 police intentionally killed, about a 20% increase from the prior three years, and more than any three-year period across the data.

Accidental deaths of officers were nearly as common in 2020-2022, with about 160 officers killed nationwide. The FBI's most recent statistics show six officers were intentionally killed this year, while another six died in accidents.

Haberfeld attributes some of the recent rise in attacks to an "anti-police climate" she said is perpetuated by politicians and amplified by the media.

"There is a perception of lawlessness, and there is no real deterrence," she said. Police are being restricted in the use of force, Haberfeld said, but not being trained on "new tools" to deal with complicated situations that may escalate. Adding into the equation a rise in violent crime, "then you have a perfect storm."

Shjarback said there is not a lot of research done on violence against police — and criminologists are hampered by inconsistent and untimely data — making it difficult to say with certainty what factors drive these trends.

He pointed to several academic studies that did not find a sustained rise in attacks on police following episodes of protests and riots against police.

Michelle Phelps, sociology professor at the University of Minnesota, said both police and the people they interact with are on "higher alert" these days, and tense encounters could be contributing to more violence. "Being on high alert has never been a good thing."

The rise also coincides with the pandemic, which led to a surge in road rage and attacks on flight attendants, she said.

"There's no reason to think that shouldn't have impacted police too," she said.