Radley Balko, HuffPo journalist and chief of The Agitator blog reports on the increasing corporate media focus around a “war on cops”. 2012 is shaping up to be one of the safest years for law enforcement since 1944; a much different time for policing in the US.
A few other media outlets are now picking up on the massive drop in police fatality statistics this year (Welcome to the story!) But so far, none of them have questioned what happened to all of those alleged trends (gun ownership, increasing contempt for cops, videotaping of police misconduct, anti-government sentiment, decreases in funding for police departments) that they all reported were behind the non-existent “war on cops” they were all reporting last year. Or in the case of the New York Times, as recently as April.
If we use the numbers from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, there are 800,000 cops on the streets. There have been 53 on-the -job fatalities so far this year. But 21 of those were car accidents. There have been 19 firearms homicides against police. I looked through the descriptions of this year’s officer deaths at the NLEMF page. Two of the fatalities were from firearms injuries sustained in previous years (in one case, 30 years ago). That puts us at 17 for this year. I then looked through the 13 deaths classified as “other.” Four of those appear to have been homicides—three stabbings, and one officer who died from a blot clot resulting from an altercation with an inmate. So let’s add those to our 17. That gives us 21 homicides in the first half of 2012 (I’ll go ahead and count the two officers killed during SWAT-like drug raids, even though it’s possible the tactics themselves may have contributed to the officers’ deaths).
By my math, that gives us a homicide rate of 5.25 per 100,000 officers. That’s not only a 50-year low, it’s only a tiny bit above America’s overall homicide rate of 4.8. It’s also lower than the 2010 murder rates in 20 states. So in just a year, or just three months by the New York Times’ reckoning, all of these trends driving up violence against cops not only diminished, they practically vanished, to the point where we seeing historic low rates of police homicides.
And how are the police organizations reacting to these figures?
Still, Mr. Floyd cautioned that the low fatality rate should not distract from serious threats to law enforcement agencies, many of which he said are facing severe budget cuts.
“We can’t look at these numbers and say that obviously, officers have everything they need to do their jobs safely — that’s simply not the case,” he said. “We are cutting back on officer strength, and that could very well spell trouble moving forward.”
Mr. Floyd said while many officers enjoy greater access to protective equipment and technology, criminal threats remain and reduced funding could put agencies at risk. He also said while fatality rated dropped, many more officers are still assaulted or injured.
Except that, as I’ve pointed out before, assaults against police officers have also been dropping for years.
“Even when the numbers are lower than normal, I still think it sends a chilling message,” he said.
Historic lows of violence against police officers “sends a chilling message?” No matter what the numbers say, law enforcement groups are going to claim they clearly indicate a need for more funding for police departments, and more power and less scrutiny for cops. Here, Mr. Floyd insists that despite the fact that the job is as safe as it has ever been, cops should still retain that “us vs. them” mindset.
“The bottom line is there is no such thing as a routine assignment. Every assignment you go on is potentially life threatening, do not ever let your guard down.”
He needn’t worry. Incidents of police shooting citizens were up 70 percent up last year in Los Angeles (where 12 of the 54 victims in 2011 were unarmed). The numbers so far this year are lower than last year, but still higher than in prior years. In Chicago, police use of Tasers is up more than 300 percent in the last two years, while officer-involved shootings have also increased over the same period. Seems to throw cold water on the idea that Tasers are used as a less-lethal substitute for bullets. Overall crime in Chicago is up this year, but officer deaths are down. In Las Vegas, the crime rate and number of cops killed on the job have fallen dramatically since 1990, while shootings by cops have increased.
We can’t really compare violence against cops with cop violence against citizens on a national level, because police departments aren’t required to keep any data on officer-involved shootings. Nor do any federal agencies bother tracking those figures. This paragraph is telling:
While the [FBI] collects, reports, and analyzes murders and assaults where police are the victim, Carr said budgetary concerns would likely preclude collecting such detailed data on shootings by police.
It’s all about priorities, I guess.
Local police accountability
Yesterday’s Concord Monitor published a letter from Jeff Dutton of Northfield about the unprofessional service he received from the Concord Police when he tried to retrieve his lost wallet from their custody.
I mindlessly left my wallet at Dunkin’ Donuts at 192 N. Main St. last Thursday. Last Friday, I called the shop and was told that it was taken by the Concord police Thursday night.
After calling the police from home at about 3:15 p.m., I was sent to a voicemail message that said that all evidence can be retrieved between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. I hit 0 and went back to the operator. She was polite and told me that the individual who holds the evidence key was gone until Monday. My frustration started here.
I drove to the police department and spoke with a very pleasant woman. After a few minutes Lt. Walter Carroll came to the window and said I would have to come back Monday to retrieve my wallet because both keys were with people who were off for the weekend.
How can a large city department allow the only two keys to evidence be out at the same time, and why was my wallet in an evidence room? Why not in the front, maybe in a lost and found locker?
Carroll, who said he was a 31-year veteran of the force, asked how many keys I expect out compromising the evidence room. I asked why, after 31 years of service, he not trusted with a key. He didn’t like that.
I had to go a full weekend without my wallet and its contents because the Concord police have just two keys to an evidence room? What happens to all the evidence collected during the weekend?
I find it hard to believe that the Concord police policy of trying to retrieve a lost wallet is so complicated and that a 31-year veteran showed no concern.