A lot of media attention has been given to shootings involving law enforcement, as well as the murder of police officers by criminals. Some pundits have declared that there is a “War On Police” and have tried to blame police accountability groups
The data doesn’t add up, especially when you look at the long-term numbers which show that officer fatalities have been on a downward trend over the last three or four decades.
In 2014, the year of the Ferguson protests and increased media attention on police misconduct, 51 officers were killed nationwide. That was a jump from the 27 killed in 2013 and many took it as a sign of greater danger for police.
Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and an assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina, calls that interpretation “nonsense.”
“It’s misleading to compare one year to another year,” he says.
Stoughton has been collecting and analyzing these data going back decades. He says 2014 looked bad in comparison with 2013 mainly because 2013 was so good.
“2013 was the safest year for police officers, ever,” he says. “The safest year in recorded history.”
In fact, in the larger scheme of things, 2014 looks pretty normal. The number of murders of police was about the same as 2012, and actually a lot lower than 2011. (Source)
Those facts are obviously lost on conservative media sources like Fox News which claims the left has proclaimed a “War on Police” for demanding accountability when careless or power tripping officers injure or kill someone. In fact, they celebrated Cliven Bundy, the anti-government rancher who defied federal agents at gunpoint, right up until he started making comments about black people.
However, there is still a “War On Police” going on even though it isn’t a physical conflict involving guns or knives. For the most part, the “War on Police” doesn’t come from the establishment left or even activist groups like Black Lives Matter. That war comes from the conservative media which constantly hypes anti-government rhetoric, right-wing gun fanatic or libertarian groups, and anti-police organizations like Cop Block – all of which profit financially and politically by exaggerating or making up stories about police misconduct.
Last year, I took a lot of grief from people when I defended a Oklahoma Highway Patrol captain after an anti-cop group took his words out of context. This is just one example out of many that unfairly attempts to paint all members of law enforcement in a bad light, for political purposes and web traffic – or even merchandise sales as Cop Block has done.
There are obviously bad cops out there who should never have been issued a gun and badge. Louisiana is certainly notorious for that as evidenced in a case from earlier this year when a state trooper and a Lafayette Parish deputy took bribes from a local oilfield CEO to frame his brother in a family feud over the business. However, these cops are a minority and do not account for all members of law enforcement.
Calls for police accountability and mandatory body cameras have risen in the wake of Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, and New Iberia, Louisiana. These demands for transparency aren’t a “War on Police.” In fact, things like body cameras can actually protect innocent police officers who are the victim of false accusations.
Yes, the number of police officers being killed in the line of duty is way down and that is a good thing. But that doesn’t mean the ones who take their promise to serve and protect seriously aren’t stuck between a rock and a hard place when they’re unfairly slandered by people who are trying to score easy clicks to their websites – or cheap political points with readers who can’t be bothered to fact check.
I’m sure I am going to get some angry messages from anti-government groups and people like Cop Block, but so be it. If we want to deal with legitimate concerns about law enforcement and police brutality, taking the grifters out of the conversation is a good place to start.
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