Last week CNN published yet another article claiming that violence against police officers has “spiked”. The mainstream media continues to publish these claims without doin any research to verify whether or not the claims are true.
CNN claims that the number of police officers killed in the line of duty during 2011 has increased by 14% over 2010. That claim is simply untrue. According to Officer Down Memorial Page, with 10 days left in 2011, there have been 158 officer fatalities.** At this time last year there had been 156 officer fatalities. The total number of officer deaths for 2010 was 161. Despite claims to the contrary, 2011 is shaping up to be at least as safe of a year for officers as 2010.
One of the few things the CNN article got right was the fact that officer deaths due to automobile accidents decreased in 2011 when compared with 2010. This drop in automobile accident deaths accounts for the decrease in total deaths. The article then goes on to insinuate that because officer deaths due to gunfire will, for the first time in 14 years, outnumber deaths due to automobile accidents, violence against officers has spiked. This again is simply untrue. Gunfire deaths will outnumber automobile deaths this year, not because there were so many more gunfire deaths, but because there was a sharp decrease in automobile accident deaths. The number of gunfire deaths so far this year stands at 62***. The number of gunfire deaths for 2010 was 59. Hardly the spike in violence towards officers the media would have you believe existed. The most that can be said from the data is that the steady DOWNWARD trend that has occurred over the last 25 years seems to have leveled off the last few years, but two years of data can not tell us whether or not this stalled decline will continue. (Read more about the data for the last 25 years here.)
Steve Groeninger, senior communications director of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, asserts that the imaginary sharp increase in death toll can be attributed to budget cuts. First, as shown above, there is no sharp increase in deaths, but let’s say that there was an increase. Groeninger does not offer a single shred of evidence that it can be linked to budget cuts. Craig Floyd, chairman and CEO of the fund, makes the outrageous insinuation that violence against officers today can be compared to one of the deadliest decades for police officers, the 70’s. The average number of officers felonious killed each year during the 70’s was 126, more than double the average for the last decade. There is simply no comparison to be made between those two decades, but Floyd would have you believe otherwise. Both Groeninger’s and Floyd’s assertions are nothing more than gross propaganda aimed to drum up more support for the police and more public outcry about the budget cuts that they are facing.
But why does it matter whether violence against officers is increasing or decreasing. Isn’t all lost of life due to violence tragic? Of course. Death due to violence is a complete waste of human potential and is always tragic in my eyes, but the propaganda that is being fed to the public is also being fed to police officers themselves. Combine this with the ever increasing militarization of your local police department, a very dangerous situation is being created for us mere mundanes.
It was recently reported that, thanks to a Defense Department program, known as program 1033, local law enforcement agencies were given almost 500 million dollars worth of military gear in 2011. That is almost double what was given in 2010. The militarization of local police departments, a trend that started decades ago, appears to be accelerating. Police departments are obtaining grenade launchers, helicopters, robots, drones, M-16s, and armored vehicles that the military no longer has use for.
Some police departments are even militarizing their waterways. The Texas Department of Safety has announced that they now have a Navy, made up of a new armored, swift boat complete with six mounted high caliber machine guns. The plan is to have a fleet of six of these boats. There is no denying that the police have been thoroughly militarized.
Of course, the mere possession of this equipment is not necessarily cause for concern. I frankly wouldn’t care if my neighbor had every single one of the above mentioned equipment. Every individual, including police officers, have a right to defend themselves with whatever equipment they deem necessary. The concern is that police departments all too often use this equipment,not in defense while attempting to bring in a violent criminal, but to go on the offense. As police departments have become militarized, we have seen a dramatic increase in paramilitary SWAT raids for everything from low-level nonviolent drug offenses to investigating underage drinking. Over the course of three decades we have seen the number of these paramilitary raids increase from about 2000 a year to more than 50,000 a year. We no doubt will see even more as police departments look for reasons to use their new military toys.
We have already witnessed this mentality. Radley Balko reported in September that a column in Tactical Response magazine encouraged SWAT commanders to “poach work” in order to stay active, even if it meant doing warrant service and drug raids. Balko notes that,
The author is actually suggesting SWAT commanders lobby to have their teams deployed in situations for which they normally wouldn’t be to ensure they’re in good practice. Put another way, he suggests they practice their door smashing, room-clearing, flash-grenade deploying, and other paramilitary tactics on less-than-violent people, so they’re in better form when a real threat arises. Never mind that there are going to be living, breathing, probably bleeding people on the receiving end of these “practice” raids.
The author seems to have no problem advocating the introduction of violence into an otherwise nonviolent situation. You can imagine that police departments will no doubt want to “practice” with all their new toys as well.
Arthur Rizer, a Virginia lawyer who has been a civilian police officer and a military police officer pointed out to The Daily that police officers and the military are two very different things.
If we’re training cops as soldiers, giving them equipment like soldiers, dressing them up as soldiers, when are they going to pick up the mentality of soldiers?” he asked.
If you look at the police department, their creed is to protect and to serve. A soldier’s mission is to engage his enemy in close combat and kill him. Do we want police officers to have that mentality? Of course not.
We already know that innocent people die at the hands of police officers because “officer safety” is apparently more important than the publics safety, but we don’t know how many. While the Officer Down Memorial Page enjoys a grant from the Justice Department, no such grant exist to collect the number and the names of those needlessly killed by the police. The Innocents’ Project, created by Clyde Voluntaryist, is attempting to do something about this lack of data by tracking those needlessly killed by the police, using the internet. Of course, this method has its problem, but even with limited ability to track all cases, the numbers that have been collected are quite troubling. According to the Innocents’ Project, 34 people have been fatally shot in questionable circumstances, 8 people have died after being shocked with a taser, 6 people have lost their lives in accidental deaths due to SWAT raids, and 6 people have died while in or being taken into custody, including the beating death of Kelly Thomas. How many more died but didn’t make headlines? How many of these deaths were due to cops that were so hopped up on the “War on Cops” propaganda that they were too quick to make their way up the continuum of force? How many more deaths will we see in the future as the propaganda proliferates and cops are even more thoroughly militarized?
That is why it matters whether violence against police officers is really increasing or not. When we combine military tactics, military training, military equipment, and military mentality with the never-ending expansion of things deemed criminal, making it inevitable that more and more people will interact with police officers, then add a big dose of the endless propaganda about “increased violence” towards cops, we are left with a situation where cops are going to be even more taser, baton and trigger happy than they already are. It makes for more dangerous streets, not for cops, but for the public.
**The number of officer fatalities quoted by CNN (166) came from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, whose stated mission ” is to generate increased public support for the law enforcement profession”. The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), whose stated mission is to simply “honor America’s fallen law enforcement”, has reported numbers that have been consistent over the years with the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted reports (LEOKA) while the numbers you will find published by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund have not, so for the purpose of this discussion I use the numbers provided by ODMP as they appear to be more reliable. Also, ODMP has a name and a description of each of the 158 officers that have been killed, while the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund does not have a name and a description for all 166 of officers that it claims to have been killed.
***The number of gunfire deaths that you will find on ODMP for 2011 is 59. One of the officers that is included in this count was shot and paralyzed in 1986. He did not die until this year and the claim is that his death, 26 years later, was due to complications from being shot and paralyzed. While it may be legitimate to claim such a thing, I excluded his death from the total gunfire deaths because his being shot in 1986 does not reflect on the amount of violence police officers are facing in 2011.