A new preliminary FBI report shows that in 2014, 51 police officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty. The FBI notes that this is an 89% increase from 2013, when only 27 officers were killed on the job. Though the media swiftly parroted this news and noted the “spike” in officers killed on duty, the details tell a more complicated story than a simple jump in homicides.
While the statistics do show that more officers died in 2014 than 2013, the specifics reveal a less than dire picture for America’s police. First, it is true that the number of “ambushes” on officers increased—by a single case (from 7 in 2013 to 8 in 2014). Still, the largest increases came at traffic stops (3 in 2013 to 10 in 2014) and disturbance calls (5 in 2013 to 11 in 2014). The number of “pre-meditated” attacks did jump by 3, but still accounted for one of the smallest increases in officer deaths. While murders during traffic stops and disturbance calls are relevant, they do not denote as much hostility toward police as outright ambushes and pre-meditated attacks.
Further, while any form of murder is tragic, it is important to look at the long-term trends. Even the FBI notesthat the annual average number of police deaths from 1980-2014 was 64. This means that in spite of the sensational 89% increase in murder, the 51 figure is still lower than the three-decade average. The National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Fund has also noted that the rate of officer homicides has dropped steadily since the 1970s, where it peaked at an average of 127.
Additionally, almost as many police officers died in accidents as were murdered in 2014. Out of 44 accidental deaths, 28 were car accidents. Of those 28, 15 were not wearing seatbelts.
While the report appears to denote a marked shift in law enforcement deaths, thereby drumming up sympathy for officers, what it actually reveals is much simpler: that even though one year out of dozens saw an increase in murder against police, the number of officers killed is still monumentally tiny compared to the number of citizens killed by police in 2014.
With 51 officers killed and 1,000 citizens killed by cops, citizens were murdered by police at 21.5 times the rate of officers in 2014. In other words, the number of police killed by citizens amounted to barely 5% of the total murders committed by police.
The disparity is likely much greater. Since police are not required to report on who they kill, the numbers the federal government has are submitted voluntarily. Only 750 of 17,000 of local departments submit data. In 2013, this led to a monumental inaccuracy in statistics. As Reason summarized:
“The FBI’s statistics for 2013 say that law enforcement officers killed 461 people that year. Killedbypolice.net apparently got its start last year. Using their system of monitoring by news report, they have calculated that police actually killed 748 people between May and December. That’s 287 more than the FBI reports for the whole year.”
The 1,100 figure for 2014 is from the same independent aggregator of police murderers, aptly calledkilledbypolice.net. Even those numbers are not complete considering there is no central authority demanding full records from local police.
While murder is wrong and violence against police officers is a sure way to empower the police state, it is willful ignorance for authorities to ignore the reasons why officers are attacked. Though the federal government has created bureaucracies and commissions to deal with the issue, police still receive military equipment. They still escape prison time, even when caught killing on camera. Body camera laws often offer exemptions to keep evidence from the public. Thousands of families are denied answers and justice because of the thin blue line and the federal government’s compliance.
Just as violent American militarism creates hostile resistance from occupied countries, those targeted unjustly by police are growing increasingly restless and discontent. Protests and disdain for police are a disruptive symptom of even more disruptive policing and authoritarianism.
Rather than reacting to opposition with riot gear, armored vehicles, suppression of free speech, and the military, police who are truly concerned with threats on officers’ lives will benefit from examining why people are so frustrated with them in the first place.
Published on AntiMedia by Carey Wedler