Anti-cop trend? What trend?

Dateline: Mon 31 Jan 2011

Couple points.

Blog reader Nic Martin sent the following contrarian post about the alleged trend in anti-cop violence in the U.S. The author is one Radley Balko, a native of Greenfield, Ind., and a 1997 graduate of Indiana University with a journalism degree.

He now lives in Nashville, Tenn., and is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

His piece -- "The Anti-Cop Trend that Isn't" -- is a deboning of a current hue and cry in the media, namely, that we are undergoing a wave of cop killings. I read some of the original pieces that pointed to a trend, including Jon Murray's analysis in the Indianapolis Star. I think Mr. Balko deserves a hearing, as well, and I suspect he's more correct than not.

For more info on Balko, his blog is called "The Agitator." Here is the link:

And here is his piece from Reason, thanks to Mr. Martin:

The Anti-Cop Trend That Isn't

Between January 20 and January 25, 13 police officers were shot in the U.S., five of them fatally. Two officers in St. Petersburg, Florida, were killed while trying to arrest a suspect accused of aggravated battery. Two more were killed in Miami while trying to arrest a suspected murderer. An officer in Oregon was seriously wounded and another in Indiana was killed after they were shot during routine traffic stops. The Indiana assailant had a long and violent criminal record. The suspect in Oregon is still at large. In another incident, four officers were injured in Detroit when a man about to be charged in a murder investigation walked into a police station and opened fire.

Some police advocates have drawn unsupported conclusions from this rash of attacks, claiming that they are tied to rising anti-police sentiment, anti-government protest, or a lack of adequate gun control laws. Media outlets also have been quick to draw connections between these unrelated shootings. While these incidents are tragic, the ensuing alarmism threatens to stifle much-needed debate about police tactics, police misconduct, and police accountability.

Jon Shane, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told NPR the January shootings "follow some bit of a larger trend in the United States," which he described as an "overriding sense of entitlement and 'don't tread on me.'" Craig W. Floyd, chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, told UPI, "It's a very troubling trend where officers are being put at greater risk than ever before." The same article summarized the opinions of other police leaders who think the shootings "reflected a broader lack of respect for authority."

Richard Roberts, spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations, told MSNBC, "It's not a fluke….There's a perception among officers in the field that there's a war on cops going on." Police critic William Grigg notes that Smith County, Texas, Sheriff J.B. Smith told the NBC station in Tyler, "I think it's a hundred times more likely today that an officer will be assaulted compared to twenty, thirty years ago. It has become one of the most hazardous jobs in the United States, undoubtedly—in the top five."

During his interview with Shane, NPR host Michael Martin linked the shootings to the availability of guns. Salon's Amy Steinberg concluded "there is a disturbing trend and an increasingly pressing need to revisit the conversation on gun control."

Dig into most of these articles, however, and you will find there is no real evidence of an increase in anti-police violence, let alone one that can be traced to anti-police rhetoric, gun sales, disrespect for authority, or "don't tread on me" sentiment. (CNN is one of the few media outlets that have covered the purported anti-police trend with appropriate skepticism.) Amid all the quotes from concerned law enforcement officials in MSNBC's "War on Cops" article, for example, is a casual mention that police fatality statistics for this month are about the same as they were in January 2010. Right after suggesting to NPR that the recent attacks were related to anti-government rhetoric, Shane acknowledged there has been little research into the underlying causes of police shootings.

In truth, on-the-job police fatalities have dropped nearly 50 percent during the last 20 years, even as the total number of cops has doubled. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 279 cops were killed on the job in 1974, the worst year on record. That number steadily decreased to just 116 in 2009. The leading cause of death for cops on duty is car accidents, not violence. For the last several years, the number of officers intentionally killed on the job each year has ranged from 45 to 60, out of about 850,000 cops on the beat. That makes police officers about 50 percent more likely to be intentionally killed than the average American. But contrary to Sheriff Smith's claim, the job isn't among the 10 most dangerous in the country, let alone the "the top five," even if you include officers unintentionally killed in traffic accidents.

As for guns, Salon's Steinberg strangely came to her conclusion about "the pressing need to revisit the conversation on gun control" just a few paragraphs after she noted that gun sales have risen dramatically during the same 20-year period when police officer fatalities have plummeted. Last year there was an increase in officers intentionally killed on the job, from 41 to 58, which Steinberg characterizes this way: "In 2010 policemen killed on the job rose by nearly 40 percent, the greatest increase since 1974." That's true. But isn't it more significant that these numbers have dropped to the point where 17 additional deaths now represents an increase of 40 percent? In any event, 2010 also saw the smallest increase in gun sales in six years.

None of this is meant to denigrate the heroism of police officers who confront and apprehend dangerous people, and we certainly should honor and remember those who are injured or killed while doing so. But seizing on an anomalous series of terrible shootings as evidence of a nonexistent anti-police trend skews the debate on issues such as aggressive police tactics, police militarization, the use of Tasers, searches and pat-downs, and police transparency and accountability. Officer safety is important, but it should not come at the expense of the safety and civil liberties of the people they are sworn to protect.

 Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.


nicmart [Member] said:

Balko is one hell of a reporter. If only the local scribes were half as good.

2011-01-31 16:45:12

hendy [Member] said:

New trends in information dissemination probably help amplify cop killings, but there shouldn't be even one. When I look at my friends in the EU, and the shock at even one murder by gun, we live with it all to easily here.

None of the statistics have any citation. The election of Barak Obama to the presidency caused gun sales to soar, yet the cited statistic doesn't show that. How many gun sales at places like the Arizona auction cited by NYC Mayor Bloomberg today are recorded and are in the statistic cited?

If I didn't know better, I'd believe that writer had strong NRA sentiments. Otherwise, the numbers would have citations and would be real. 58 officers killed is 58 too many, and each of them were killed not by hand, not by an arrow, not by a spit ball, but by a felon with a gun.

2011-01-31 17:12:26

nicmart [Member] said:

If you want the killing of policemen to decline then end a major cause of violence: drug prohibition.

During alcohol prohibition the national homicide rate doubled, and when it was ended the rate gradually declined again by half.

Americans own far more guns today than when police deaths were much greater, in real and proportional terms, so the logic (not sentiment) is in the favor of more guns, not fewer. If police killings were proportionate to the number of guns owned, or the number of people who own guns, the number of killings would have increased tremendously. Instead they have declined substantially.

2011-01-31 19:28:50

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Figures lie, and liars figure.

One copy death is one too many. It'd be nice if all our media left this familiar chant in the parking lot:

"If it bleeds it leads."

Some solid journalistic effort in this community wld be welcome. It's not a new phenom--I used to listen to Fred Heckman on WIBC, and he was news director (i.e., in charge of sending reporters to stories). He was a Paul, Harvey ads/news guy, and he was rosy 150% of the time.

And here's the rub--if he sent a reporter to a meeting or event, there WAS always a leading story. Sometimes, reporters attend "events" that aren't stories.

When you raise a generation of folks on that kind of candy-cane news judgment, what do you expect?

2011-02-01 04:17:10

Jason [unverified] said:

Hmmm, for starters, IUPA is essentially the law enforcement division of the AFL-CIO. I would question putting much stock into anything a national union official says, especially with those kinds of roots. Not to blame the guy, but he's lobbying for his cause.

Anybody who takes 5 days and extrapolates it onto years' worth of data is foolish anyway and I think we all see through that.

Where my rub comes is from your citations on police militarization and aggressive tactics. The Cato Institute can hardly be considered a bastion of objectivity (I'm guessing I'll get some sympathizers on that one.) Let's not forget that 25 years ago police had carte blanche to open fire on crimes as petty as fleeing shoplifters, and as far as accountability goes if a half dozen officers fired on said shoplifter and everybody missed, they picked up their brass if any and went about their day without filling out so much as a post-it note.

If you look at the military deployment numbers of today versus the 60's and 70's they pale in comparison. You simply have fewer combat-trained veterans out there, let alone are they applying to police departments. Add in the requirement for a college degree (which doesn't do much IMHO), the increasing push towards political correctness, and the evolution in general policing tactics and I'm seriously questioning this McNamara fellow's credibility. If I'm not mistaken the rank of Inspector is a command rank, so it's possible he hasn't been around in a while. Either way 'criminal justice' and 'policework' make a very loosely strung together Venn diagram.

If anything police departments are very far behind the curve in terms of escalation. The protective vests issued are not rated to stop many of the types of ammunition that are fired today. Many of the criminal innovations that should be taught today, such as training in shooting pit bulls that are trained to attack the police, are instead replaced with things like cultural sensitivity and ethics training (sorry, but if you're 25-30 years old and you still haven't figured out how to use some common sense or what's very clearly right and wrong you shouldn't be there in the first place.)

The factual basis behind the criticism of no-knock and SWAT search warrants is so far off-base I don't know if it even warrants a critique.

What was I going to say? Oh yeah, I agree with your premise, I think the problem is that there seems to be so much more to worry about these days so it seems to be getting worse. A lot of indicators point to society being much safer today than it was when we were youngsters. Took a lot of gumption to right it, though, good work.


2011-02-02 12:50:06

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Cultural sensitivity is evidently lacking among too many IMPD officers. So, if their training needs are not met, in the current constraints, they obviously need more.

That should not come at the cost of other important issues.

I don't know where you get the vest thing; I just asked an LEO friend and he's puzzled too

Not saying you're wrong, but if you can cite specifics, please do.

I'm not as familiar with no-knock warrants as you evidently are. I am quite familiar with my civil rights.

Just curious: how much training does it take to shoot an attacking dog? Point, pul trigger, repeat if required.

2011-02-02 13:23:01

Jason [unverified] said:

Off-hand I can't think of any situation where a decent dose of common sense easily supplants cultural sensitivity. I also can't think of any situation where cultural peculiarities could possibly usurp the laws of the land or the need for things to be done in a certain way when they are proscribed in that manner for superceding reasons. Except maybe those old Pueblo tribes in the West which are still allowed to smoke peyote? Committing crimes, on-duty and off-duty, sometimes getting it wiped off the books and sometimes getting in trouble for it, aren't cultural issues, IMHO. Spanish language instruction would be helpful, but outside of that can you expand?

The vest most cops carry isn't rated to stop any type of rifle or shotgun round or any type of round without a blunted end. It's also become much more common knowledge how to make a vest-penetrating round.

I understand your civil rights concerns. They have been weighed and measured by the courts. Those rights are normally forfeited for the greater good when people deal drugs out of their house (the court's opinion, not mine.)

Training, particularly in any type of situation involving discharging a handgun, needs to be as specific and situational as possible. I was just using that as an example.

2011-02-02 16:25:27

EdWhikken [unverified] said:

SourceWatch provides interesting information on the Reason Foundation, publisher of Reason magazine:

2011-02-03 06:54:26

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