Number Of Officers Killed In The Line Of Duty Drops To 50-Year Low While Number Of Citizens Killed By Cops Remains Unchanged
from the mean-streets-'meaner'-for-civilians dept
The go-to phrase deployed by police officers, district attorneys and other law enforcement-related entities to justify the use of excessive force or firing dozens of bullets into a single suspect is “the officer(s) feared for his/her safety.” There is no doubt being a police officer can be dangerous. But is it as dangerous as this oft-deployed justification makes it appear?
The annual report from the nonprofit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund also found that deaths in the line of duty generally fell by 8 percent and were the fewest since 1959.
According to the report, 111 federal, state, local, tribal and territorial officers were killed in the line of duty nationwide this past year, compared to 121 in 2012.
Forty-six officers were killed in traffic related accidents, and 33 were killed by firearms. The number of firearms deaths fell 33 percent in 2013 and was the lowest since 1887.
This statistical evidence suggests being a cop is safer than its been since the days of Sheriff Andy Griffith. Back in 2007, the FBI put the number of justifiable homicides committed by officers in the line of duty at 391. That count only includes homicides that occurred during the commission of a felony. This total doesn’t include justifiable homicides committed by police officers against people not committing felonies and also doesn’t include homicides found to be not justifiable. But still, this severe undercount far outpaces the number of cops killed by civilians.
We should expect the number to always skew in favor of the police. After all, they are fighting crime and will run into dangerous criminals who may respond violently. But to continually claim that officers “fear for their safety” is to ignore the statistical evidence that says being a cop is the safest it’s been in years — and in more than a century when it comes to firearms-related deaths.
So, the excuses — and the justifiable homicides — mount. Even as the job becomes safer for police officers and crime stats continue to drop from their mid-1990s highs, the rate of deaths at the hands of law enforcement remains unchanged. According to statistics from the Bureau of Justice, 4,813 people have died while being arrested by police officers. 60% of those were homicides, a rate of ~400 per year.
Look at Seattle. As Reason points out, 20% of its 2013 homicides were committed by police officers — 6 out of 29 total. A city with nearly 650,000 residents (and an infinite amount of chances to kill each other) only managed to outpace the city’s ~1,800 officers by a 5-to-1 ratio. One homicide per 300 officers versus one homicide per 22,000 residents. Again, being a criminal shortens your lifespan, and officers will more often find themselves in dangerous situations, but the disparity here is enormous.
Efforts have been made over the past several years to make things safer for police officers. The ubiquitous use of bulletproof vests has contributed to this decrease in firearms-related deaths, as has a variety of policies aimed at reducing high-speed chases. But very little effort has been made to decrease the number of people killed by law enforcement. (Notably, Seattle’s police chief attributes the high homicide numbers to not “effectively managing” interactions with people with mental health issues.) Some deaths are nearly impossible to prevent, but there are others where the situation has been allowed to deteriorate far too quickly or a shoot-first mentality has prevailed. The escalating adoption of military equipment and tactics has also contributed to the steady “justifiable homicide” count.
I’m aware that statistical aggregation isn’t the same thing as moment-to-moment reality. Just because you’re less likely to be shot today than at any other time in the past 100+ years doesn’t mean today isn’t your day. But the narrative push by officers to present their job as persistently deadly doesn’t jibe with the death totals. The First Rule of Policing (“get home safe”) is a crutch for bad cops. Cops are getting home safe now more than ever. It’s those on the other side of the blue line that haven’t seen their chances improve.