Good News: Cops Are Winning The War on Cops

 

shutterstock_134091965Heuristics are convenient mental rules-of-thumb we all use, often unconsciously, to evaluate information about the world around us. While incredibly useful in many circumstances, they can often lead us astray, especially in dealing with big numbers or concepts outside of our daily lives. One of the most prevalent is the Availability Heuristic, essentially defined as assuming that something that is easily remembered is important. The reason it often fails is that it gets the causality backward: it assumes that something is important because we can remember it, rather than vice versa.

It appears the Availability Heuristic is force when it comes to the War on Cops narrative that’s emerged in the last few months, as every officer tragically gunned down is thought to demonstrate an increasingly dangerous trend. But as Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post, 2015 appears to be on-target to be one of the safest years ever for American police officers. More specifically, only 35 officers are expected to be murdered this year, just slightly up from 2013’s record low of 31. For comparison’s sake, roughly twice as many officers a year were gunned down as recently as 2000, about 100 a year were murdered during the late 1960s, and as many as 200 a were killed year during prohibition. Every one of their deaths deserves nothing but the roundest condemnation but this is, truly, wonderful news.

Balko’s statistics come largely from the American Enterprise Institute, which relies, in turn, on the Officer Down Memorial Page; hardly leftist sources. These statistics and others strongly suggest that we are not only very near the bottom of  a long, steady decline in the deaths of law enforcement officers at the hands of criminals, but also that this is taking place within a context of decreasing assaults on officers and during a general decline in violent crime in the United States.

What should we do with this information? My recommendation would be nothing beyond encouraging everyone to breath a sign of relief. Things may be a mess in a lot of ways, but this is not one of them.

There are 15 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    This is indeed good news.

    There is a possibility that these figures reflect a decline in active policing.  For example, if police were to reduce their efforts in problem areas, I would expect that fewer police would be murdered, but the price would be increasing lawlessness.  There is anecdotal evidence of this — e.g. Ferguson and Baltimore — but overall, crime rates seem to be declining, so I doubt that less vigorous policing explains the (welcome) decline in police fatalities.

    Two other confounding factors come to mind: (1) police may be wearing more body armor, which might lead to fewer fatalities even if overall violence were increasing, and (2) improved emergency medicine might be saving more officers’ lives, which would also tend to give the appearance of a decline in violence.  I have read that improved emergency medicine is behind some of the (also welcome) decline in overall homicide rates.

    • #1
  2. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Our current problem isn’t the number of dead officers, which of course is great news as you say. Rather, it is the perception officers have that they are too much at risk of either being killed, or being disciplined, even charged with a crime, if they simply do their jobs. This is contributing to a general increase in lawlessness that over the long term could increase crime rates of all types and even reverse the trend in the number of officer fatalities.

    • #2
  3. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Arizona Patriot: (2) improved emergency medicine might be saving more officers’ lives, which would also tend to give the appearance of a decline in violence.  I have read that improved emergency medicine is behind some of the (also welcome) decline in overall homicide rates.

    That’s likely part of it but — according to other datasets Balko cites — assaults against officers are down as well.

    • #3
  4. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    Following the logic of the OP, one must look beyond one, easy-to-remember statistic to other insidious effects of the war on cops as noted above. It’s also possible that there may be a lag between the declaration of war and the breakout of fighting. Last of all, since crime rates overall have been dropping since the 1990s, it would be incorrect to deduce that the decline in violence against police is anything other than a part of a larger trend.

    • #4
  5. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    drlorentz: Following the logic of the OP, one must look beyond one, easy-to-remember statistic to other insidious effects of the war on cops as noted above.

    What would you suggest? If deaths and assaults are both down, what would meaningfully indicate a war on cops?

    drlorentz: Last of all, since crime rates overall have been dropping since the 1990s, it would be incorrect to deduce that the decline in violence against police is anything other than a part of a larger trend.

    As, indeed, I said it likely is.

    Again, there’s been a lot of headlines — look at those Balko notes in his piece suggesting that we’re already experiencing a war on cops. This appears to be based far more on individual (horrific) anecdotes than real data.

    • #5
  6. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    But murder rates are sharply rising in US cities, and in particular in those cities where there have been significant Black Lives Matter protests.  See articles here and here. This entirely supports the idea that police death rates are down because of less aggressive policing, while the community death rates are on the rise.  Or, as David French’s article on NRO put it, #BlackLivesMatter Costs Black Lives.

    • #6
  7. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Lucy Pevensie: But murder rates are sharply rising in US cities, and in particular in those cities where there have been significant Black Lives Matter protests.  See articles here and here. This entirely supports the idea that police death rates are down because of less aggressive policing, while the community death rates are on the rise.  Or, as David French’s article on NRO put it, #BlackLivesMatter Costs Black Lives.

    That may well be a factor, and — I agree — may well be indicative of a serious problem. But, again, I find it hard to square the existence of a War on Cops with flat-or-declining injuries and violent fatalities to officers.

    • #7
  8. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    That may well be a factor, and — I agree — may well be indicative of a serious problem. But, again, I find it hard to square the existence of a War on Cops with flat-or-declining injuries and violent fatalities to officers.

    I guess I’m saying that if someone declares war on you and you somehow manage to avoid any battles–if you run and hide, and don’t engage–you may end up with relatively few casualties. It does not mean that you’re winning the war.

    • #8
  9. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    drlorentz: Following the logic of the OP, one must look beyond one, easy-to-remember statistic to other insidious effects of the war on cops as noted above. [emphasis added]

    What would you suggest? If deaths and assaults are both down, what would meaningfully indicate a war on cops?

    First, I alluded to previous posts, most notably Arizona Patriot‘s. More important, you skipped this:

    drlorentz: It’s also possible that there may be a lag between the declaration of war and the breakout of fighting.

    The effects may not be felt immediately. Time will tell. A related point: extrapolating a short-term trend is risky.

    • #9
  10. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    drlorentz:

     More important, you skipped this:

    drlorentz: It’s also possible that there may be a lag between the declaration of war and the breakout of fighting.

    The effects may not be felt immediately. Time will tell. A related point: extrapolating a short-term trend is risky.

    Indeed. Which is why declaring a war on cops — as many have done — strikes me as unwarranted, especially given that this year appears to be on track to be the 2nd-lowest year on record for police fatalities.

    • #10
  11. Max Ledoux Admin
    Max Ledoux
    @Max

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: If deaths and assaults are both down, what would meaningfully indicate a war on cops?

    Intentions, I think. There’s a difference between a police officer dying in the line of duty — they have a dangerous job — and police officers being targeted for assassination while they’re pumping gas, sitting in squad cars, stopped at traffic lights, etc.

    • #11
  12. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Max Ledoux:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: If deaths and assaults are both down, what would meaningfully indicate a war on cops?

    Intentions, I think. There’s a difference between a police officer dying in the line of duty — they have a dangerous job — and police officers being targeted for assassination while they’re pumping gas, sitting in squad cars, stopped at traffic lights, etc.

    This is making my point. A handful of horrific anecdotes hardly constitutes a war.

    • #12
  13. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    It’s probably too early to tell if the statistics pan out on the number of officer deaths declining. The BLM movement didn’t take-off until the Michael Brown shooting on August 9, 2014. We’ll have to wait and see what the statistics tell us after several more years. On the other hand the number of black lives lost after the Michael Brown shooting might indicate that Kabul is safer than Baltimore, Chicago, NYC, and Los Angeles.

    • #13
  14. jzdro Member
    jzdro
    @jzdro

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: A handful of horrific anecdotes hardly constitutes a war.

    One way to frame this is to ask for qualitative as well as quantitative data.

    Suppose analysts define “horrific” with sufficient precision, such as with the Ledoux parameters, and see how they track over time.  That would give us additional information.

    • #14
  15. mfgcbot Inactive
    mfgcbot
    @mfgcbot

    Is it possible that these incidents could be having an (obviously unintended)  deterrent effect?

    Try to grab an officer’s gun? Get shot.

    Resist arrest? Die in an ambulance.

    Flee an arresting officer? Get shot in the back.

    If I am engaged in criminal behavior and the police arrive on the scene, I might just be inclined to use whatever bit of rationality I am able to muster at the moment to restrain myself lest something really bad happen to me.

    • #15

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.