The 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