How Dangerous is Police Work?

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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Paula Parmeley Carter

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.