Study: The 'War On Cops' Is Pure Bullshit
from the it-keeps-the-money-rolling-in-though dept
The “War on Cops” is a belief system that’s currently being preached to the converted. Evidence abounds that it’s safer to be a cop now than it’s ever been, and yet, officers still claim they’re being targeted and use these unfounded fears to obtain military equipment and qualified immunity rulings.
We’ve covered how safe police work is here before. But the narrative coming from the law enforcement community refuses to change, despite evidence to the contrary. Research is piling up, exposing law enforcement agencies’ claims of cops being targeted by a vengeful populace as a self-serving lie. At best, these claims are merely wrong. But given the easy access to law enforcement officer death data, a refusal to see the stats for what they are is incredibly disingenuous at best.
Adding yet more documentation to the pile is a study released by researchers from three American universities. The study [PDF] shows policing just keeps getting safer.
The number of line-of-duty deaths has declined dramatically over the last five decades. Policing is a much safer profession now than it was 50 years ago. Despite a 75% drop in deaths, however, there has been remarkable stability in geographic-, temporal-, and incident-level characteristics. Also, several notable changes over time reflect favorably on improved safety in policing, such as declines in deaths resulting from aircraft crashes and accidental gunfire. Other trends are troubling, though, such as the stability in deaths during auto pursuits and a two-fold increase in deaths from vehicular assaults. Currently, the “war on cops” thesis is not supported by any evidence, and we apply the 50-year lens in this study to provide important context for understanding recent trends in officer deaths.
The number of deaths continues to drop despite a few high-profile incidents in which cops were targeted and killed. What’s interesting is officers’ lack of concern for their own safety, as is evidenced by the numbers of deaths related to vehicle pursuits.
Interestingly, deaths occurring during automobile pursuits remained stable over time (5% to 6%) despite policy changes adopted by departments to restrict and control pursuits (Alpert, 1997).
In addition, significant shifts in cause of death occurred among nonfelonious cases. The most common cause was automobile/motorcycle accidents, and the proportion increased significantly over time from 37.9% in 1970–1979 to 52.0% in 2000–2016.
There’s nothing “interesting” about this. Departments have regularly enacted policies meant to curb the use of high-speed pursuits to capture criminal suspects. Just as regularly, officers have ignored these policies. There is also an observed tendency for officers to drive aggressively when responding to calls, increasing the chance of accidents, injuries, and death.
Aggressive action by officers — not just in terms of driving, but also in terms of interactions with the public — appears to be greeted in kind.
Researchers have also documented an association between aggressive patrol style and greater rates of assault (Kaminski et al., 2003; Morrison & Meyer, 1974; Regens et al., 1974; but see Wilson & Zhao, 2008). Fridell et al. (2009: 550) concluded that “agencies that have a culture of aggressiveness will likely ‘produce,’ not just more force against subjects, but also violence against police.”
Escalation remains a problem. De-escalation could save lives, as could simply treating the suspects like human beings, rather than punching bags or bullet receptacles. Aggressive tactics are making cops less safe in an era of unprecedented officer safety.
Another unsurprising finding is that the so-called “Ferguson effect” is pure bullshit.
A handful of scholars has sought to test elements of a “Ferguson Effect” directly, particularly as it relates to crime rates and depolicing. In regard to allegations of a “war on cops,” Maguire and colleagues (2017) found no evidence that the events in Ferguson (and after) led to an increase in felonious killings of police officers. By focusing on a time period spanning January 2010 through March 2016 and by using an intervention of August 2014, they found that anti-police rhetoric was not associated with a rise in the number of police officers murdered across multiple interrupted time-series estimation techniques. The analyses and their findings were robust, indicating no evidence of either an abrupt or gradual increase in felonious homicides post–Ferguson.
How can law enforcement officials who still push this rhetoric explain their refusal to accept the facts? It’s not as though researchers are juking a proprietary data set to come to these conclusions. The data set used in this case comes directly from law enforcement reporting, collected by a pro-law enforcement entity: the Officer Down Memorial Page, run by a nonprofit that says it’s “dedicated to honoring America’s fallen law enforcement heroes.”
If anyone’s still pushing a “War on Cops” narrative in the face of these facts, they’ve got something to sell. The public isn’t buying it, but that hardly matters when there’s a captive audience just dying to hear how unappreciated they are even as they march fearlessly into the face of
certain death mild antagonism.