How Dangerous is Police Work?

Published On September 13, 2010 | By Paula Parmeley Carter | Articles

Once again police officers did not make the list for America’s Ten Most Dangerous Jobs.  Despite this fact, the perceived dangers of police work are often used as a justification for police misconduct.  If you look in the comment section of any article about police misconduct you will find it riddled with the predictable defense of the officers actions by someone who states “they put their lives on the line everyday to protect us.”

Even if it was true that police officers “put their lives on the line everyday” (I’ll address that below), it is not a valid defense for police thuggery.   Would anyone defend a truck driver’s actions if he ran a car off the road?  What if the truck driver said “the other driver made a furtive move with his vehicle, I feared for my safety, so I had to run him off the road to protect myself.”   Would you buy that explanation?  Most likely you would not, even though a truck driver’s job is very dangerous, more dangerous than a police officer’s job.   Why are people so willing to give officers the benefit of the doubt, when they would not do so for those who work in other more dangerous professions?

So, do officers really put their “lives on the line everyday” to protect us?  Dave Packman of Injustice Everywhere has calculated that in 2008 (the last year that complete data is available) the United State’s Uniform Crime Reports Murder Rate was 5.4 per 100,000.  The U.S’s Uniform Crime Reports Felonious Homicide Rate for law enforcement officers was 5.76 per 100,000 in that same year.  The chances that a law enforcement officer will become a victim of homicide were only slightly higher than the chances that a mere mundane would become a victim of homicide.  Should this slight increase in probability be justification for law enforcement’s proclivity for excessive force?

Also, it should be noted that if we look at 2007 data, “we see,” according to Packman, “that Law Enforcement homicide rates are at 37% of the total fatality rate for the occupation, making it the third most likely occupation in which a person might be murdered.”  Retail Clerks and Sales Supervisors are more likely to be a victim of a homicide while on the job than law enforcement officers.  Would we let a sales clerk taser someone for making a “furtive move”?

It is important to point out the disconnect between the reality of how dangerous police work is and the perception of danger not just because it affects how people respond to evidence of police misconduct but because I believe it creates an atmosphere for the misconduct in the first place.  If officers are fed the propaganda about how dangerous their job is, how can we expect them NOT to be taser, baton and trigger happy?   Does the misperception about the danger they truly face on a daily basis make them more scared than they need to be and therefore more likely  to act excessively for the situation?

None of the above is meant to belittle the sacrifice of those officers who have been murdered in the line of duty.  Violence is always tragic.  As I scrolled through the pages of Officer Down Memorial Page I was touched by the bravery of many of the officers who were killed in the line of duty.  I was also reminded of how violence, whether it is perpetrated by individual criminals or institutionalized “legal” government gangs, robs us of so much human potential.

NOTE: Dave Packman’s website Injustice Everywhere is an invaluable source in the quest for more police accountability.  I urge everyone to visit the site and make a monetary contribution even if it is a small one, as Dave has fallen on some hard times.

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About The Author

Paula is a Staff Writer at CopBlock. She advocates ending the monopoly on policing and protection services. When not writing at CopBlock she enjoys being a wife and mother, reading and drinking good beer.
  • http://socialmemorycomplex.net Jeremy

    Police abuse does more to dishonor the lives of those who died in the line of duty than anything we could say here.

  • Mike

    None of the jobs listed get their dangers from working with people. They are all working with machinery. Cops get hurt on the job all of the time. They might not always get killed but they do get into car accidents and are assaulted.

  • Mike

    I also want to point out that law enforcement is allowed to use force to effect an arrest. Not everyone puts their hands behind their backs when asked to. Cops are given the right to use force. When law enforcement arrests someone it’s not kidnapping but it would be for anyone else.

    Store clerks aren’t dealing with people who are actively commiting crimes. They may become victims at one point. Law Enforcement deals with criminals all the time. They get called to family fights. They get but in those heightened situations.

    Next time you need help don’t call a cop. Handle it yourself or call a crackhead.

  • Paula Parmeley Carter

    Well said Jeremy.

  • Jenn

    They get into car accidents often because they are reckless. That’s their fault. Ever been on a police ride along? They drive like maniacs to non-emergency situations. I’d suggest they stop doing that, and they may very well decrease their own fatalities quite a bit.

    Also, the definition of “assault” is “harmful or offensive touch” by another. Meaning if you spit at a cop or lightly brush by him, it is technically “assault.” If you look at the stats on cop “assault” they report like 63,000 a year, but a very small minority of these actually result in injuries. They are counting all the times people bump into cops lightly, spit on them, or other really minor “harmful or offensive touches.”

    Finally, they also die sometimes when they do drug busts. Well what do you expect, when you dress in all black and kick down people’s doors? Yeah, sometimes people won’t know what’s coming, will try to defend themselves, and they will get shot. Don’t like it? Stop busting people for stupid shit like drugs. While other jobs, such as cab drivers, sanitation workers, and pilots have dangerous jobs because it is truly the nature of the job that is dangerous, cops have dangerous jobs because they consistently enforce stupid shit. Airplanes are airplanes, machinery is machinery, that cannot be changed. But you can change how you enforce laws and the priority you apply to such laws. Death from needless reckless driving and unwarranted drug busts are deaths that are caused by police policy and culture. So don’t expect us to feel so sorry for you.

  • Johnathan Doe

    I work in law enforcement. You are absolutely correct when you describe how the academy scares the hell out of the new folks. They take things way to the extreme. All this does is cause anxiety and fear in the recruits. And you are right it will make some, maybe even most, way to quick to get physical, especially with pepper spray, tasers, etc.. I remember doing stops training in the academy, one guy actually had a hand grenade. Ask any officer in this country when the last time they found a live hand grenade. The instructors claim “anything can happen.” While true, training should consist of what usually happens, not the “what ifs.” Most live training scenarios should mimic real life, while police videos of shoot outs, traffic stops gone bad, etc. should fill in. If the recruits watch these videos, they understand that things can go bad, but in most cases, they won’t.

    We also have to do something about hiring. I don’t know if more pay is needed or what, but the job draws too many “I wanna get into people’s business” types into the mix. Most of these folks grow/age out of this phase, but it is this phase where it seems trouble usually comes into play. An officer with less than five years on stops everything he or she can. Those who stir the pot are likely to find incidents that don’t go as planned, and they react in the wrong way because they are hyped up and not thinking clearly.

    When talking about cops killed on the job, that number is low because I do believe that most major metro area (where there are lots of cops and lots of runs/calls for service) departments do a lot of training in terms of hands on fighting, getting out of the way, etc.. Also, one has to look at the details of how an officer was killed. I don’t know if they are still counted, but having a heart attack on-duty after chasing someone a block or two used to be considered a line-of-duty death. Even if you were 200 pounds over weight and in poor health, the death is basically thought of as the same as those Seattle cops that were assassinated in the coffee shop. Also, those officers that die driving way beyond their vehicle’s ability are also counted. Cops swerve to avoid stop sticks while doing 80MPH or more and they fly off the road and strike trees. Some just drive way too fast. I was told early on: You aren’t any good if you can’t get there.

    Worst case scenario, make believe training needs to stop. Throw in a few scenarios where the guy in the red suit resists, but for the most part, train exactly with the same probabilities an officer will see on the street.

  • Jenn

    Thank you for the law enforcement perspective, Jonathan.

  • http://dragonaters.blogspot.com Dragonator

    2 weeks ago a cop ran out in the middle of a busy highway to stop me for allegedly speeding at 60 mph.

    That’s how most cops get killed, during “routine” traffic stops, filing frivolous lawsuits against 100-million Americans per year.

  • http://dragonaters.blogspot.com Dragonator

    PS: Those same cops killed a cop riding his motorcycle to work for the “crime” of speeding. They didn’t even bother with a traffic stop, just rammed him without warning. Cop was arrested an put on trial for murder, but the jury said it’s ok to kill a cop. Google Micky Laton and Rockford police. Those same cops killed a biker by hit-and-run, then named a highway to honor the convicted-hit-and-run killer. Google Senator Carl Koella (a trooper was driving the getaway car).

  • Ed

    Police work grows more dangerous to the extent that police lose the support of the people they police.

    We see case after case of cops mistreating, disrespecting , bullying, badgering and otherwise treating people like pieces of shit for nothing more than observing a cop doing his job or for protesting how the cop was doing it.

    We see cops themselves violate the law they inflict on others and are not held to account. We see them protected by the police unions and internal affairs divisions. We see them get away with lying, criminal conduct, falsifying evidence and overt brutality.

    If cops want respect they need to understand that respect is earned, not commanded. They can’t come up to innocent people intimidating them, bullying them, abusing them and then expect to be respected. They can get fear and hatred using those tactics, but they cannot get support and respect. Let any business owner who offers a true service to the community talk to or treat their customers the way many cops do and that business would soon be driven out of the market.

    As it is now, the slogan on the sides of some police cars, “To serve and protect.” is true. But, it doesn’t mean what the community wants to believe it means. The cops are not there to serve and protect the community and the rights of the people. The cops serve the state and protect themselves and their “brothers”.

    One thing I agree with Mike about is that next time you need help don’t call a cop. Learn how to protect yourself and family. Get to know your neighbors and develop good relationships with them. The one effective thing that you can do to avoid the kinds of negatives that cops bring with them is to disengage. Have nothing to do with them.

    As for cops and family fights, cops have no business responding to them. You wouldn’t send an automobile mechanic to take care of a tooth ache. Why send a cop to a family disagreement? What the family needs in such times of conflict and crisis is family and friends who can help calm the situation…or a family and marriage counselor.

  • Dave

    I’m a serving Police Officer. The reason homicides against Police aren’t much higher than the general population is because they react strongly to threats. If they weren’t so (as it was put earlier) trigger, baton or taser happy then the rate would be much higher. We’re going to high risk violent jobs several times a day.

  • Dave

    To whoever it was who implied that police juggle stats to make policing sound more dangerous, you seem to think being spat on isn’t a real assault, why don’t you let some disease riddled junkie spit on you before you tell me it’s not a real assault and then wait 6 months to find out if you caught anything, all the while refraining from sexual contact with your spouse so you don’t pass on what you may have caught.

    You get spat on, I’d rather cop a “real” assault.

  • Paula Parmeley Carter

    Dave,
    Your comment about being spat on just provided more evidence for my belief that cops are fed so much propaganda that they have no actual concept of the real dangers involved with their work.

    Here are some facts they may give you some comfort next time. The chances of catching a blood borne disease from someone spitting on you are practical nil.

    HIV is not spread through saliva. Although there are detectable components of HIV in saliva(such as viral RNA and previral DNA) those components are not infectious. Saliva is part of our innate immunity and is actually a quite harsh environment for infectious materials. So there is one less disease for you to worry about.

    Hep B can theoretically be spread through saliva since the virus is found intact in saliva. In your line of work (and mine) you should be vaccinated against Hep B. So there is another disease you can stop loosing sleep over.

    Hep C also can theoretically be spread through saliva since the virus is found intact in saliva. The viral load of the infected person will determine whether virus is in the saliva, a person with a viral load less than 1 million per ml is unlikely to have any at all in their saliva. Now even if a person with Hep C virus detectable in their saliva spit on you, the chances of infection for you are next to nothing because Hep C is rarely transmitted through mucous membrane exposure (nose, mouth, eyes)even when mucous membranes are exposed to Hep C blood. And remember, we are not talking about infected blood here, we are talking about saliva, where the viral load may be non-existent depending on the patients over all viral load.

    Remember you can not get any of these infectious through intact skin, so unless infectious material comes into direct contact with your mucous membranes, your risk is a big fat ZERO of getting an infection.

    But lets say they spit on you after you beat them up and the saliva has blood in it. Your chances of getting HIV from a know infected individual whose spit happened to land just at the perfect spot to get in your mucous membranes, would be 0.09%. Your chances for Hep B should be nothing since you should be vaccinated and the chances for Hep C are pretty much nothing. (to my knowledge TWO cases of mucous membrane exposure leading to infection have been documented by the CDC and in both cases the source was co-infected with HIV/Hep C)

    Basically, stop being a cry baby and if you are so scared of non-existent risks of your job, get a new job.

  • MattB

    Damn! Paula owned! What do you do for a living Paula?

  • Paula Parmeley Carter

    I am a Clinical Laboratory Scientist.

  • Dustin

    Posts like this just startle me. The general public continues to only be fed the bs that the news wishes to show. They want to show how a cop had to use deadly force, but almost always fail (and usually mumble as a quick addition) to show that the victim made an attempt to use deadly force. They want to show that a person got tased by a cop, but don’t want to mention that the victim was resisting and fighting with the cop.

    As the son of an active patrol sergeant, I hear and live the real risk the job holds. When your father comes home and shares stories of calls answered with numerous guns like assault rifles and shotguns involved, it really opens your eyes. And although there are many young men who join the force today to “play” the role of cops and continue to give them bad raps, there are true American heroes on the streets daily working hard to serve and protect each and every one of you.

    Despite what you might call “perceived” danger of the job, its real danger. The men and women who wear uniforms each and every day are putting on a target. They answer calls multiple times a day in which there is a great chance of injury, sometimes being fatal. Although you share your stats about how many actually get killed, you do not see the bigger picture of how many are facing gun wielding criminals and abrasive people they come into contact with daily. So please continue to “perceive” it as dangerous until you all open your eyes and realize that it IS dangerous.

    Until you become a cop, live with a cop, or become close to a cop and hear how the stuff really works, you should not attack a job that people do every day to take care of you. I don’t see cops posting on the internet how other people’s jobs aren’t dangerous or dumb or whatever you wish to compare this ludicrous idea to.

  • LEO-AR0485

    No one likes a cop, until you need one. Fortunately for you guys who hate us and work against us, we have taken an oath to guard your protection and liberties…and WE DO, thanklessly.

  • John

    HEY LISTEN. If there were no cops you wouldn’t have a house, it would probably be burned down by now. It really pisses me off when idiots like you think ya don’t need cops and that cops do it just for “fun”. do you have any idea how much paperwork that they have to do just because of a simple traffic stop? There is no fun in that job. Hell I’m not even a cop, but someone needs to teach you guys a lesson. You should get robbed clean and then see how “bad” the cops are. Scum like you don’t even deserve to get help from the police, you should handle it by yourself, see how that works out. Someone needs to slap the stupidity out of all of you.

  • Jared

    Well John, do you want to know how I know you have never been robbed? I know because you think cops will (or even can) do anything about it. If you have something substantial stolen from you, the only time to involve police in your unfortunate situation is when you have to deal with the fat girl with attitude at the desk when file your police report so you can complete your insurance claim. The police report is required by the insurance company not because they think the property will ever be recovered (it won’t) its to limit the amount of fraudulent claims the insurance company receives. Cops are useless at best and lethal at their worst. You don’t like to hear this John, because you desperately want to believe that someone is looking out for you, but you are going to have to protect yourself. You should also know that cops do not at all appreciate it when you attempt to protect yourself to the same degree that they protect themselves. Meet your new enemy, same as the old enemy.

  • Citizen

    mike, what difference does it make HOW you get hurt? When a person breaks your finger is it life threatening? Is it not life threatening when a machine takes you hand off? You argument about dealing with people makes no sense. Second, you have obvioulsy never been detained (like when your pissed ex calls the cops on you because you wont drive 2 hrs to take her her phone she left at your house and calls it theft)by the police or you would know they ODNT GIVE YOU A CHANCE to put you hands behind your back. They tackle you and twist your shoulder the wrong way until they dislocate it all the while scraming “stop resisting”. well officer seeing as you are literally torturing me, how do you suggest i “stop resisting” when my body is trashing out in blinding pain?

  • Citizen

    Jared is right btw. Police are worthless. I was hit by a car who then drove off. I chased the car and got thier license plate number. I called the cops and gave it to them. They called me a few hrs later and told me they cound the truck that hit me and when they rang the dorr they heard shuffeling and a tv on but since they had no search warrent they could not go inside and even if someon had answered the door they would have had to admit to crashing into me because they were not currently IN THE CAR. Despite the fact that whoever the car was registerd to was legally responsable the cop did not seem to know this, and refused to do anything further. I had to pay to have my car fixed out of my own pocket. I was robbed once and called the cops. I live in ca and have a perscription for medical marijuana. when the cops arrived rather than take my report, they spotted a pipe, barged in and arrested me. Luckily one of the cops FORCED the others to listen to me and went and found my perscription. then they left. they never took a report at all. they simply herassed me and left. Last time I was robbed I ignored it and bought a new tv. Atleast that way I dont end up in handcuffs.

  • Citizen

    hey john, so you think that for the thousands of years before we had cops people just went around burning each other houses down? I believe the fact that you think everyone is a murderous thief says more about you and your friends than it says about how much we need cops. to me it sounds like as long as we get rid of you and your friends as well as the cops we will be fine. I dont know a single person that would go out and burn someone elses house down just because there were no cops… except you of course.

  • Joe No Lo

    Swearing an oath to the Constitution comes with more risk than police departments are willing to allow. You guys and gals are in a tough spot. One the one hand, there is your oath, but that understandably takes a back seat to department policy at times, especially when it comes to officer safety. That doesn’t make it right though, and it’s citizens, along with cops, who ultimately pay a price for this unresolved tension. I would argue that cops operate under the belief that they are securing our liberties, but they do so selectively out of self-preservation because they can. For example, when I read officer after officer post “if the suspect had just complied, this wouldn’t have escalated” in situations where the person was justifiably flexing his or her rights, I am reminded of this police blind spot. However, forfeiting one’s rights simply to make an officer’s job easier, even if it is the safest, most pragmatic thing to do, should not be the expectation or the norm. The fact remains, we all have rights for a reason. Police departments have some policies that are in conflict with these rights– and for good reasons too. I don’t believe, however, that the latter trumps the former. And I think the Founding Fathers and most Americans would agree in theory. I’m not saying it’s impossible to maximize both the safety of cops and people’s rights, but until someone figures out a way to make that happen, people’s rights– all of their rights– should come before officers’ safety in all but the most patently extreme situations. Being a cop is indeed dangerous, but it should be even more dangerous. That is, if police were trained to uphold the totality of the Constitution, even to their own detriment. But what department would take that position if they didn’t have to? It’s not easy to hold an abstraction above the safety of those sword to defend it. Realistically, perhaps that’s too much to ask anyone. I couldn’t do it.