Law Enforcement and Risk

I started writing this piece in 2018, and it’s been in draft and re-written every six months or so since.  First, I don’t like cops who believe that coming home at the end of shift is their most important motivation. The national statistics play out that in more than half the states in the US there were zero cops murdered in 2014. This means that the risk values for “being a cop” are highly dependent on local variables rather like the risks associated with fishing are much different on a guided fly fishing expedition than a commercial Alaskan crab boat.

First read this:

According to statistics collected by the FBI, 96 law enforcement officers were killed in line-of-duty incidents in 2014. Of these, 51 law enforcement officers died as a result of felonious acts, and 45 officers died in accidents. In addition, 48,315 officers were victims of line-of-duty assaults. The 2014 edition of Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, released today, includes comprehensive data tables about these incidents, brief narratives describing the fatal attacks, and narratives regarding selected assaults resulting in injury.

Felonious Deaths

The 51 felonious deaths occurred in 24 states and in Puerto Rico. The number of officers killed as a result of criminal acts in 2014 increased by 24 when compared with the number who were feloniously killed in 2013 (27 officers). The five- and 10-year comparisons show a decrease of five felonious deaths compared with the 2010 figure (56 officers) and a decrease of four deaths compared with 2005 data (55 officers).

Officer Profiles: The average age of the officers who were feloniously killed was 39 years. The victim officers had served in law enforcement for an average of 13 years at the time of the fatal incidents. All 51 officers were male. Forty-seven of the officers were white, two were black, and two were Asian/Pacific Islander.

Circumstances: Of the 51 officers feloniously killed, 11 were killed while answering disturbance calls, nine were conducting traffic pursuits/stops, seven were ambushed, seven were investigating suspicious persons or circumstances, five were conducting investigative activities (such as surveillances, searches, or interviews), four were killed in arrest situations, four were involved in tactical situations, and three were handling persons with mental illnesses. One officer was killed in an unprovoked attack.

Weapons: Offenders used firearms to kill 46 of the 51 victim officers. Of these 46 officers, 33 were slain with handguns, 10 with rifles, and three with shotguns. Four officers were killed with vehicles used as weapons, and one was killed with personal weapons such as hands, fists, or feet.

Regions: Seventeen of the felonious deaths occurred in the South, 14 in the West, eight in the Midwest, eight in the Northeast, and four in Puerto Rico.

Suspects: Law enforcement agencies identified 59 alleged assailants in connection with the felonious line-of-duty deaths. Fifty of the assailants had prior criminal arrests, and 11 of the offenders were under judicial supervision at the time of the felonious incidents.

Now read this:

In 2008, federal police employed approx. 120,000 full-time law enforcement officers, authorized to make arrests and carry firearms in the United States.

The 2012 Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies (CSLLEA), found there were 17,985 state and local law enforcement agencies employing at least one full-time officer or the equivalent in part-time officers.

In 2008, state and local law enforcement agencies employed more than 1.1 million people on a full-time basis, including about 765,000 sworn personnel (defined as those with general arrest powers). Agencies also employed approximately 100,000 part-time employees, including 44,000 sworn officers

So what does this mean? Well it means that cops don’t have a statistically dangerous job as far as felonious murders go, and a slightly higher risk as far as “assault” goes. But, I put the word assault in quotes because assault is a huge range of actions from slapping a cop to shooting a cop who doesn’t die, so in terms of real risk value it isn’t a good metric to use.

As I started out, this data supports that there are pockets of higher risk, and at least half the nation that is incredibly low risk.

But, police involved shootings are also rare, both on the giving and receiving end. I would like to see them get more rare. The fact that interactions with law enforcement are also incredibly safe from a statistical perspective can easily be lost in the “media amplification effect.” And then there are some police departments (looking at you Denver) that really do have a history of unnecessary violence.

Here’s a link to the top ten most dangerous jobs in the United States.

Neither Military Service nor Law Enforcement made the top 10 most dangers jobs list. In fact, as far as I can find, even with the “War on Terror” going continuously for two decades “Military Service” never once made the list. This is because the military, just like law enforcement, happens to be millions strong, which makes fatalities a very minor portion of the total population.

To sum up, anyone who tells you that being a cop is an incredibly risky job is ignorant at best and a liar at worst, the data does not support that conclusion. Different risk, yes, but cops are also given many tools not afforded to private citizens to deal with that risk (looking at you qualified immunity). I’m not a “defund the police” type of idiot, but I do support having a fresh conversation about how we approach policing, law enforcement tools like “civil asset forfeiture” and “for profit prisons and policing.” And having just finally thrown in the towel in the “war on terror” we might as well throw in the towel on the “war on drugs” as that’s been an even worse deal for Americans.

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