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Article posted Aug 21 2014, 4:24 AM Category: Commentary Source: The Freeman Print

By the Numbers: How Dangerous Is It to Be a Cop?


Defenders of police militarization such as that on display in Ferguson, Missouri, often claim that it’s necessary to provide military gear to cops, given how dangerous law enforcement has become.

Indeed, in the name of the War on Terror and theWar on Drugs, the federal government has provided thousands of pieces of military-grade body armor, mine-resistant armored personnel carriers, assault rifles, grenade launchers, helicopters, and night-vision goggles to local police and sheriffs. Almost every county in America has received equipment from these programs.

But has policing really become so dangerous that we need to arm peace officers like an invading army? The answer is no. It's never been safer to be a cop.

To start with, few police officers die in the line of duty. Since 1900, only 18,781 police officers have died from any work-related injury. That's an average of 164 a year. In absolute terms, officer fatalities peaked in 1930 (during alcohol prohibition) at 297, spiking again in the 1970s before steadily declining since.

If you look at police fatalities adjusted for the U.S. population, the decline is even starker. 2013 was the safest year for American policing since 1875.

In 2013, out of 900,000 sworn officers, just 100 died from a job-related injury. That's about 11.1 per 100,000, or a rate of 0.001%.

Policing doesn't even make it into the top 10 most dangerous American professions. Logging has a fatality rate 11 times higher, at 127.8 per 100,000. Fishing: 117 per 100,000. Pilot/flight engineer: 53.4 per 100,000. It's twice as dangerous to be a truck driver as a cop—at 22.1 per 100,000.

Another point to bear in mind is that not all officer fatalities are homicides. Out of the 100 deaths in 2013, 31 were shot, 11 were struck by a vehicle, 2 were stabbed, and 1 died in a "bomb-related incident." Other causes of death were: aircraft accident (1), automobile accident (28), motorcycle accident (4), falling (6), drowning (2), electrocution (1), and job-related illness (13).

Even assuming that half these deaths were homicides, policing would have a murder rate of 5.55 per 100,000, comparable to the average murder rate of U.S. cities: 5.6 per 100,000. It's more dangerous to live in Baltimore (35.01 murders per 100,000 residents) than to be a cop in 2014.

This is not to say that police officers do not have a difficult job. They certainly do. They’re required to have daily contact with drunks, the mentally disabled, and criminal suspects. Arrests can often lead to physical confrontation, assault, and sometimes injury. Police are constantly dragged into families' and neighbors' petty squabbles. It can be a stressful and sometimes thankless task.

But it just isn't unusually deadly or dangerous—and it’s safer today than ever before. The data do not justify the kinds of armor, weapons, insecurity, and paranoia being displayed by police across the country. Short of an outbreak of land-mine-related crimes in America's heartland, there's no reason to deploy mine-resistant vehicles and .50 caliber machine guns to rural sheriffs departments.

Instead of hiding behind gas masks, how about putting cops back on the beat and talking to the community? Instead of M16s and grenade launchers, how about dashboard and body cameras, which have been shown to reduce excessive force and improve officer safety? I bet Mike Brown's family wishes St. Louis County had considered that, rather than being dazzled by shiny new toys from the Pentagon.

Update: My estimate for the rate of police murders was probably too high. I assumed for the sake of argument that half of the 100 police fatalities in 2013 were murders, because the FBI hasn't released numbers yet for how many were felony killings. But the average from 2003-2012 shows that felony killings accounted for only a third (34%) of all officers fatalities. That would make the murder rate for police in 2013 something closer to 3.77 per 100,000, well below the national average.
Daniel Bier is the executive editor of The Skeptical Libertarian. He writes on issues relating to science, skepticism, and economic freedom, focusing on the role of evolution in social and economic development.

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Comments 1 - 18 of 18 Add Comment Page 1 of 1

Posted: Aug 21 2014, 6:31 PM

93167 " how about putting cops back on the beat and talking to the community?"

LOL !!
That is so NOT the purpose of even having a police-force !

Posted: Aug 21 2014, 6:46 PM

@Peter, are the police in the UK, as mad as the ones we have here in the states?

Posted: Aug 21 2014, 8:42 PM

72193 Another stat to follow up on, most of the cops shot, were shot by other cops in botched raids

Posted: Aug 21 2014, 8:46 PM

99109 That's the profession they chose. If being injured or killed happens, so be it. Life goes on.

Posted: Aug 21 2014, 8:57 PM

173191 one of the things you need to look at is the fact that to be a police officer you need to pass the test and be well conditioned for that line of work but if you want to be a logger fisherman or polite you may not be prepared for the worst while police (good ones at least) do need to be. oh and also do you think the fact that the casualty rate is going on *is BECAUSE of the police being decked out* (also that mike brown slur was a low blow and a lie)

Posted: Aug 21 2014, 9:39 PM

713 If you want to find out how dangerous a job is, look at the NCCI workers compensation ratings. Based on injuries, cemetery workers and highway workers are more dangerous jobs than cop or firefighter.

Posted: Aug 21 2014, 10:02 PM

112255 Of the police that die on the job, the vast majority die from car accidents, just truck drivers, pizza delivery guys, and traveling salesmen. When a Domino's driver dies, why don't they get a huge funeral with bagpipes and a 21-gun salute?

Posted: Aug 21 2014, 11:32 PM

172248 How dangerous is it to be a citizen?

Posted: Aug 22 2014, 1:14 AM

107143 Number one crime in Amerika? Perjury.

Number one perpetrators of perjury? Police.

Posted: Aug 22 2014, 9:17 AM

98192 My brother is a militarized cop who defended the flash grenade in the baby's face with the dangers officers face on the job. Will forward him this info, although I suspect he will dismiss it without a second thought. A lot of people have doubts that American law enforcement and military wont fire on the American people. I don't have a single doubt in my mind that they will do (most of them) what their bosses order them to do. Generally speaking, (sadly) society has lost its morality
T.J. Thomas

Posted: Aug 22 2014, 1:02 PM

192190 But be careful that the pro-militarization crowd doesn't use these statistics of increasing safety to "prove" that militarization is the reason for the added safety and thus has to continue (or expand).

Posted: Aug 23 2014, 1:39 AM

6850 I see that the dirty hand of Israel hasn't been mentioned here. Police officers have been receiving much of their training from Israel's IDF, both here and in Israel. The police are indoctrinated into treating the people living in their districts in the same manner the IDF treat Palestinians. This is not only unacceptable; it's a gross violation of both US and International law. The US Government is just as guilty as the Zionist Entity of crimes against humanity with regard to the militarization of this nation's state and local police forces. The Pentagon provides the toys; Israel provides the training.

Posted: Aug 23 2014, 11:38 AM

6711 The police people in this and other countries are trained by the Israelis. "We are all Palestinians now".

Posted: Aug 23 2014, 12:14 PM


Posted: Aug 24 2014, 1:58 PM

70122 The Israelization of our police officers must stop now.

Posted: Aug 28 2014, 2:39 PM

17610 @99109 "Profession" i.e. extortionist

Posted: Aug 29 2014, 9:07 PM

@Sundown, there's a religion / philosophy behind all this militarization-(MAD)ness. The ideology doesn't belong to a specific country, nor, is one specific country at fault. Israel was an Edomite construct - a means to keep people at war, while the self-proclaimed "elite" stole the world. What a great con it has turned out to be.
The people of Israel are brainwashed, just as the people in the US are. They sale you ideals of freedom and prosperity, then, slowly they indoctrinate you and your children, with: "war is peace, ignorance is strength, freedom is slavery." Though, if you just wait around a really-long-fucking-time, while generations of innocent people are ritually abused, tortured, and murdered, a messiah will come and redeem mankind; (I can't believe I ever bought into such nonsense - a Hegel construct).

@99109: "Life goes on." What you're calling "life," does not go on. "Existence goes on."

Posted: May 10 2015, 3:48 PM

11441 I always thought that most police officers who died, where the whistle blowers, or people thinking of crossing the blue line. Ever notice, that AFTER a whistle blower comes out, that the department of brothers comes up with false charges on the whistle blower, or IF true, it means that the cops knew about it, before hand, but he was still a "brother in blue" so it was kept under the rug so to say, but if you break the blue line, you lose your rights as a cop.
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