The “Police Work Is Dangerous” Myth

Military PoliceOptional musical accompaniment, Isn’t It Romantic:

Isn’t it pathetic?
Journalistic hacks
Just following the herd!

That’s what I thought when I saw this at The New York Times last night, Two New York Police Officers Are Shot in the Bronx. It came in my email and that’s why I think it is pathetic. Obviously, this is a real news story. But The Times on average sends me maybe two notices per day. So this is Big News™ because, “Cops’ lives matter!” Of course, no one ever questioned that the lives of police officers mattered.

This is all a response to the murders of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. After that, apparently, the senseless shooting of kids by police officers don’t matter. As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote yesterday, “If the public appetite for police reform can be soured by the mad acts of a man living on the edge of society, then the appetite was probably never really there to begin with.” The recent rallying around the police is business as usual — we’ve been seeing it for years and it is in no sense any different from the tired demands for conformity found in, “Support the troops!”

But this recent bit of voluntary government propaganda is really a bit too much. The two officers — Aliro Pellerano and Andrew Dossi — were not killed. That’s good news, even though they were seriously injured. Like I said: this is a perfectly acceptable news story, but not one that the paper of record should be sending out to its email subscribers. The headline implies that this was another ambush attack as had happened to Liu and Ramos. But it wasn’t. The officers simply got into an altercation when approaching two men who were suspected of a robbery. Also: the suspects are Latinos.

What is particularly troubling about this is that it is pushing a false narrative. Police officers are not under assault. Police work has done nothing but become safer over the last twenty years. The facts are clear. Back in 2011, after a rash of shootings of police officers caused a similar outbreak of deceptive reporting, Radley Balko wrote, The “War on Cops” That Isn’t. And late last year, he followed it up with, Once Again: Police Work Is NOT Getting More Dangerous. Just in terms of raw numbers, there were fewer police officers killed in 2013 than there had been since World War II. And that is with a population that is 2.25 times the size.

I don’t think the problem is primarily that the public is deceived about this. The problem is that police officers are deceived about this. It causes them to use excessive force because they live on a knife’s edge — constantly thinking that they are in danger. Another factoid from Balko’s work is that it is more dangerous to simply live in one of the 50 highest crime cities than it is to be a police officer. Yet no one ever says, “When a waitress in Oakland drops off her kids at school in the morning, she doesn’t know if she’ll ever see them again!” But this kind of nonsense is constantly thrown out about the police.

One thing I’ve focused on in my writing is that the police have become a bunch of pussies. They aren’t willing to subject themselves to even the slightest danger. For example, there is the 2003 case of a woman who was fatally shot by police offers because of her threatening gestures with a vegetable peeler. But I seem to be about the only person willing to call the police pussies. And this is because the police have convinced themselves and the nation that their jobs are so dangerous it makes sense for them to constantly be on guard so that occasionally overreaching is understandable.

It isn’t. Because police officers do not have terribly dangerous jobs. I mean, they aren’t cabbies — who are four times as likely to die on the job!

Update (6 January 2015 6:10 pm)

Unbelievable: Cop Wounded in Shootout Not Happy About de Blasio’s Visit.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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