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Heuristics 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.