Sunday Commentary II: Policing Has Become More Not Less Safe


police-lights-3The pushback has continued against the killing of police officers. On Wednesday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker continued to raise the rhetoric against the killing of police officers. He referenced the recent killings of Texas Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth and Illinois police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz when he wrote, “Over the last week, we’ve seen a disturbing trend of police officers being murdered on the job.”

He continued, “This isn’t the America I grew up in or that I want my children to grow up in. When the very people responsible for keeping us safe are targeted because they are law enforcement officials, we have a serious problem.”

The governor added, “In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. Instead of hope and change, we’ve seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat. This kind of attitude has created a culture in which we all too often see demonstrations and chants where people describe police as ‘pigs’ and call for them to be ‘fried like bacon.’ This inflammatory and disgusting rhetoric has real consequences for the safety of officers who put their lives on the line for us and hampers their ability to serve the communities that need their help.”

But as Washington Post columnist Radley Balko points out, “Walker is right in one sense. The America in which police officers work today is quite a bit different from America when Scott Walker was growing up. But it’s different in that it’s much safer to be a cop today.”

Governor Walker was born in 1967. Mr. Balko’s research found that the fatality and homicide figures going back to the 1960s have plummeted.

Here are a few notable numbers he found:

  • “More officers were feloniously killed in the 11 years between 1970 and 1980 (1228 deaths) than in the 21 years between 1993 and 2013 (1182 deaths).” Walker would have been 3 in 1970 and 13 in 1980.
  • Between 1971 and 1975, when Walker would have been between age 4 and 8, an average of 125 police officers were feloniously killed per year. Between 2006 and 2010, the average was 50. In 2013, just 27 officers were feloniously killed. In 2014, it was 51. So far this year, the number of cops killed with firearms is down 16 percent from last year. Two of those officers were killed by other cops.
  • If you look at the rate at which cops are killed, the numbers are even more dramatic. There are quite a bit more police officers today than there were in the 1970s. So in 1975, for example, when Walker was 8, there were about 411,000 cops on the street, and 129 police officers were feloniously killed. That’s a rate of 31.38 murders per 100,000 officers. In 2013, the rate was about 5. Last year it was higher at 9.4, but that still means the rate was about 3.5 times [higher when] Walker was growing up.
  • To put those rates into perspective, consider the death rate for fishermen, the most dangerous job in America: 131 deaths per 100,000. Even if you factor in traffic fatalities and other accidents, policing isn’t among the 10 most dangerous jobs in America. Another way to look at these figures: The murder rate for police officers is about the same of the overall murder rate in cities such as Bakersfield, Calif.; Louisville; and Omaha.

It is not just a matter that technology has reduced the number of deaths. Mr. Balko found that the rate of assaults on police officers has been falling, too. He writes, “So you can’t argue that cops are safer solely because they’re killing more criminals, or because they have better equipment (though there’s evidence that the latter has helped). People are just less likely to attack police today than they’ve been in the past. And that’s despite the increased public scrutiny.”

The Associated Press on September 2 looked at police killings. When Lt. Charles Gliniewicz died last week, he was the eighth law enforcement officer shot and killed in the U.S. in the last month and the fourth in 10 days.

However, the AP found that “Shooting deaths of officers are actually down 13 percent compared with the same January-to-September period in 2014. There were 30 shootings last year and 26 this year. Those figures include state and local officers, as well as federal agents.”

The AP backed up Mr. Balko’s findings: “The average number of officer shooting deaths for the first six months of each year… was 62 through the 1970s.” They added, “The worst half-year period over the past five decades was in 1973, when 84 officers were shot and killed in the first six months alone. Through the early 2000s, the six-month average fell to 29.”

The next question that the AP asked is how many of these officers were specifically targeted (or, as some would say, assassinated). The AP found, “During the last 12 months, six officers appear to have been targeted specifically because they worked in law enforcement… That includes the Texas deputy, as well as two New York City officers who were shot and killed in December as they sat in their patrol car.”

In other words, the examples people can cite as examples of assassination actually comprise the bulk of the cases.

As Mr. Balko writes, “That’s six too many, but six deaths (four total incidents) out of 550,000 to 1.1 million cops in America (see the note below for an explanation of why this figure is a range), in a country of 320 million people, is a very small number. It’s certainly too small to claim a pattern or trend.”

On the other hand, so far this year, the Washington Post has counted 666 people shot dead by U.S. police. The Guardian counts 786 people killed by police by any means. In August alone, there were 104 people killed by police, a figure four times higher than the number of cops who have been shot all year.

The bottom line seems to be that the number of fatal shootings of police have fallen drastically during the course of Governor Walker’s lifetime. The number of police actually targeted seems to be six. Far more people have been killed by the police than the other way around.

While some of those are justified, there were 13 unarmed people killed this year by police – more than twice the number of police officers targeted by their shooters.

Concludes Radley Balko, “You’d think that someone who professes to believe in limited government would welcome more oversight of a government institution… Yet for some reason, Republicans and conservatives from Donald Trump to Ted Cruz to Walker to Mike Huckabee think the government entity that has the power to detain, arrest and kill should get the least scrutiny of all. They’re, of course, free to argue that position. But they don’t get to make false claims to support it.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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27 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary II: Policing Has Become More Not Less Safe”

  1. zaqzaq

    The last couple of weeks have not been kind to cops.  Four killed in ten days is an alarming rate and the incident in Houston where the black defendant seemed to execute a white cop because he was white is really alarming.  Especially with some of the rhetoric coming from the Black Lives Matter group.  The “pigs in  a blanket, fry the bacon” comment is also disturbing with no apology because it was just them joking around.  Much of this is the media at work on both sides of the issue.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Four killed in ten days is not a “rate” it is an occurrence. If the occurrences continue at that frequency, then talking about a “rate” is fair. At this point, I see no overarching trend of increase nor as the AP and Mr. Balko point out is the incidence of targeting of police very high.

      1. zaqzaq

        The incident in Houston is an occurrence.  Do you consider the “trend” in Baltimore after the Grey incident a “rate” or an “occurrence”?  The “why” in the “trend” in Baltimore is of course subject to debate.

    2. PhilColeman

      Appreciate your concern about the deplorable comments described, really do. But that comes with the job description of law enforcement, and after a while it just becomes, “white noise” (ironic pun intended). Some of the more creative comments are later shared after duty hours.


  2. Frankly

    Good article that dispells some of the myth of black suspect shooting by white cop.

    Without reliable numbers, the conventional wisdom is little more than speculation. Indeed, some recent research suggests that it may not even be correct: One study of police data in St. Louis concluded that black and white officers were equally likely to shoot African-American suspects, while another experiment found that both officers and civilians in simulated situations hesitated significantly longer before firing at black suspects than they did at whites.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      It doesn’t dispel anything, it questions whether we can form conclusions with poor data – something I have been pointing out (the lack of reliable data) since December.

      “It’s shocking,” said Geoffrey P. Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina. “For 20 years, we’ve been trying to get the government to do something. We don’t have a clear picture of what’s going on in the use of lethal force. Are young black males being shot at a rate disproportionate to their involvement in crime? Are white officers shooting black males in areas where they’re not expected to have those sorts of interactions? Is this an aberration, a trend, routine, something going on for a long time? We don’t know.”

      1. Frankly

        So we don’t know, but yet we have Black Lives Matter and demands from Democrats that we reject All Lives Matter as a replacement movement.

        Here is the way I see it.

        Democrats are in trouble politically.  Six years of Hope and Change and economic circumstances have plummeted for the average low-income family… and blacks are over-represented in that trend.

        And the Democrat apparatus has worn out the Bush’s Fault, CEO’s fault, corporation’s fault, white’s fault.  And since the black community is in worse shape, more members understandably turn to anger and crime.

        Back at DNC headquarters the stategy starts to materialize.  Since we lack reliable data on cop shootings and killings the liberal media puppets can have their strings pulled to enflame and redirect black anger about their crappy circumstances to the cops and away from the failed policies of the Democrats.

        You see the narrative…  if we would only stop arresting and incarcerating blacks they would have a better life!

        You have to give the Democrats some credit here.  They can mobilize a national PR campaign pretty effectively.  Of course control of the main media and the campuses helps them a great deal.  And the crappy state of the GOP PR engine also provides them an assist.

        In the end though, it is the black community that will suffer.  The Democrat party needs a majority of blacks stuck on the virtual plantation of victimhood and mistaking their Democrat “friends” as their saviors.  It isn’t until the black community leadership starts facing the hard truth that they have been sold a false bill of goods by Democrats who are primarily responsible for their crappy schools and crappy economic opportunity, that circumstnaces can begin to improve.

        Think about what would REALLY help that black child improve his oportunity for a better life.  Then ask youself how the “Black Lives Matter” movement will do a damn thing for him?  It won’t.  It is all political.

        1. Don Shor

          Back at DNC headquarters the stategy starts to materialize. 

          The DNC and leading Democratic politicians are not behind the ‘black lives matter’ movement. In fact, they’re not happy about it. Your narrative fails at several levels.

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          here was a list of policy recommendations. They seemed pretty reasonable for the most part, and most are not dependent on the question you have raised. I think the best approach is to focus on the policy issues which are reasonable.

      2. Miwok

        Data? It sounds more like keeping score. And the numbers are adding up to the unstable people who think they can “even it up”.

        Were the cops breaking the law? Why were the people abusive to them? Why did they run, toward or away?

        If this were a traffic accident, what assignment of blame to each party would there be? The consequences of each person’s action must be weighed in each case, yet you seem to want to lump them all into ONE and make a policy, or law, or response that fits them all. Doesn’t work for me.

        If the people killed by bad cops, and they are covered by bad management, or bad politics, then let’s look at the other side too. Let’s dissect each person’s family and life before each incident. Any good journalist should, yet they don’t.

        1. Clem Kadiddlehopper

          “The DNC and leading Democratic politicians are not behind the ‘black lives matter’ movement. In fact, they’re not happy about it. Your narrative fails at several levels.”

          The Democratic National Committee passed a resolution Friday afternoon supporting the Black Lives Matter movement at the party’s summer meeting.

          1. Don Shor

            Yes, but it is not ‘their’ movement in any sense. It didn’t originate with the DNC at all. Hilary Clinton would love for it to just go away.

  3. PhilColeman

    Law enforcement fatalities in the 70’s were really bad. I worked the streets of Oakland back then and it was virtually a Fort Apache mentality among the folks in blue. We had recent “Nam Vets” who said it was like going into a war zone each work day.

    Yet, with all that, I can say with blunt honesty that Oakland citizens in vast overwhelming numbers supported us. You’d get the private comments expressed spontaneously that appreciated what we were doing under trying circumstances. And the remarks came often from sources that stereotypically would be seen as inherently hostile towards authority.

    Media depictions were then as now, slanted both ways according to someone’s political or philosophical biases. The difference now is that now everybody has an opinion and everybody can express it in public forums at the speed of light.

    1. Miwok

      Also, PhilColeman, you could speak to the number of officers that are NOT killed, but nearly so, and are then “casualties” of their vocation, and cannot work any more, or are off the streets because of injuries.

      A Correction Officer once told me no one lasts 20 years in the job, because one fight can put you on the disability list. Most are out after 15?

      1. PhilColeman

        I’d say at a glance, your source is victimized by hyperbole and perhaps a touch of self-pity. I lasted 25+ plus years and walked out with a service, not disability, retirement. And so did the vast majority of my contemporaries.

        Yes, we took shots in the chops and would get hit with a pool cue in a bar brawl–and I was bitten by a guy with exceptional front teeth pressure. And running blind at night through back yards would get you bitten by dogs and hooked by clothes lines. But most of us could not wait to return to duty. I am dated in my experience, however.

        There is more than a little distain towards folks who seek disability retirements on questionable injury claims. It used to be more common, but worker comp refinements have reduced the number–and the temptation.

      2. hpierce

        You have to put the ‘disability retirements’ in context… there was a time, years ago, when someone in PD (or any public safety) wanted a pension early (before reaching service retirement) they would claim a ‘work-related disability’ due to “health issues” that actually was more related to tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, and/or obesity.  PERS has clamped down big-time on this ‘strategy’ over the years.  May still happen, but not like it was happening for Public Safety employees 15-35 years ago.  Know a bunch of Fire and PD folk, ‘back in the day’, who took disability retirement absent a ‘true’ job-related injury/cause.

        Don’t know how that ‘fact’ entered into the calculus of your CO friend.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          hpierce, are you sure? I attended a party with a bunch of state employees and they bent my ear about how many sheriffs retire early on disability… “we know what they are doing.”

          Can anyone confirm what the benefit is in retiring on disability, over their normal (great) retirement? I’ve heard rumors that disability benefits aren’t taxable income … is this the motivation (payoff)?

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          OK, here is some background and the motivation. From a 2012 article.

          “…Disability retirement is intended for public safety workers with dangerous jobs who become permanently incapacitated by illness or injury. But over the years, it has also become an escape hatch for unwanted police officers and firefighters and a way to pad the pensions of those at the end of their careers, an Orange County Register investigation has found.

          “Medical retirements come with hefty tax breaks at a time when government is struggling with falling revenues and huge pension liabilities. Under the California Public Employees Retirement System, which covers most city police and firefighters, a disabled retiree gets at least half of his or her pension tax-free – sometimes more.”
          “…The Irvine Police Department has the county’s highest disability retirement rate for a large city since the department was created in 1975. Sixty of 99 officers [60%] who have retired since the department was formed claimed to be injured or ill. Crime statistics show Irvine to be one of the safest cities in the nation. Compare Irvine to Anaheim, which has more violent crime but a disability retirement rate of only 15 percent since the department joined the PERS system in 1950.”

          Anaheim’s police department – one of the largest in Orange County – had the lowest disability rate over the last 5 ½ years at 2 percent. Anaheim assigns injured or ill officers to permanent soft duty as a way to reduce medical retirements. Also ranking low for disability retirements was the O.C. Sheriffs Department, with 9 percent disability retirement over the last 5 ½ years. Officials said the sheriff’s agency is large enough to temporarily reassign injured workers to limited duty, such as guarding the courthouse.”

          “…For instance, California Labor Code 4850 allows injured or ill police officers and firefighters to take up to a year off from work, with full pay, tax free. The legislature has expanded the law to include inspectors, investigators and detectives in any district attorney’s office, county probation officers, group counselors and juvenile services officers, lifeguards, port and airport police, and game wardens.

          This benefit is not offered to civilians, who must seek paid leave through the workers’ compensation system. In contrast, workers comp is not tax free, seldom equals full salary, and typically must be reauthorized on a monthly basis, said Orange human resources director Steven Pham.”

          Also read the stories about “double dipping”.

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    Awkward sentence alert.

    “The pushback has continued against the killing of police officers.”

    against the killing = against

    pushback against = for the killing of officers?

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    I’m not sure what purpose this article was serving, other than to make the case that police shootings are down overall, i.e., there is no problem.

    I watched the major TV Sunday news programs this morning, and a police chief had a few interesting points to make.

    – There appears to be a recent uptick in shootings of police officers, and shootings in major cities since the #BlackLivesMatter movement started.

    – In 5 or 6 large cities, recently we have seen shootings / murders up between 22 to 67%. (It was early, I had no notebook.)

    – The increase in shootings is primarily by felons, shooting at felons.

    – The firepower the criminals are using appears to be more powerful (more ammo, more powerful guns).

  6. TrueBlueDevil

    Two police officer shootings in Las Vegas the past 2 days. The first may have been triggered by a theft in progress, police respond, and 2 officers are shot at (one hit). Two black male suspects taken into custody without major wounds.

    Yesterday there was an apparent ambush shooting of an officer(s) in a patrol car, one officer was shot in the hand. A Latino male suspect was arrested and the officers showed “great restraint” in not firing a shot at this alleged criminal.

    I don’t think either case will make the mainstream news.

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