Let me make this very clear up top before we dive in—I want 2015 to be the safest year ever for cops. No part of me or any other writer for this blog ever wants to see a police officer injured in the line of duty.
What this post is about, however, is the power of media narratives to strike fear in the hearts of ordinary citizens, elected officials, and law enforcement officers alike.
First, let’s look at a few charts…
Is there a “war on police” in America today? Most Americans think so, and that’s understandable given all of the media coverage of that topic. A Google news search finds 32,000 results for the phrase “war on cops” and another 12,100 results for “war on police,” with sensational headlines like “America’s War on Cops Intensifies” and [NYPD Commissioner] “Bratton Warns of Tough Times Ahead Due to ‘War on Cops’.” A recent Rasmussen poll found that 58% of likely US voters answered “Yes” to the question “Is there a war on police in America today?” and only 27% disagreed. But data on police shootings in America that were reported last week by The Guardian (“2015 May Be One of the Safest Years for Law Enforcement in a Quarter Century“) tell a much different story of increasing police safety.
According to data available from the “Officer Down Memorial Page” on the annual number of non-accidental, firearm-related police fatalities, 2015 is on track to be the safest year for law enforcement in the US since 1887 (except for a slightly safer year in 2013), more than 125 years ago (see top chart above). And adjusted for the country’s growing population, the years 2013 and 2015 will be the two safest years for police in US history (see bottom chart above), measured by the annual number of firearm-related police fatalities per 1 million people.
The two charts above reveal a picture of increasing police safety in the US that is much different than the narrative we hear all the time in the media about a “war on cops” and increasing risks of death for America’s law enforcement. From a peak of more than 100 police shootings in every year between 1969 to 1980 (except for 1977 when there were 97 deaths), firearm-related police fatalities have been on a downward trend for the last 35 years, falling to only 31 in 2013 and now on track to reach 35 by the end of this year (based on 24 police deaths during the first 251 days of 2015). We can see the same downward trend in annual firearm-related police deaths adjusted for the size of the US population (bottom chart), which will make 2013 and 2015 the two safest years for law enforcement in US history.
Now, this certainly to say that police officers aren’t facing a tremendous amount of animosity and pressure right now. It also doesn’t mean that there isn’t a new specific level of danger from crazed anti-cop lunatics out there. But these dangers are largely a created by the media who realize that “war on cops” is a fantastic narrative that sells ads and gets clicks.
Around here, we will continue to support cops as they serve and protect communities. We will also continue, as we always have, to call for broader accountability measures to prevent abuses of power.
Remember, just because the media has suddenly picked a narrative and is churning out hundreds of stories about a new outrage, that doesn’t make the narrative true or anything new. What it does, however, is shift people’s perceptions and stoke people’s fears, and doing this puts money in media executives’ pockets…