I’ve written a number of times before about a relative safety of police work. But recently, Ted McLaughlin at Job’s Anger provided more detailed information than I’ve been able to find, Police Officers Do NOT Have the Most Dangerous Jobs. So I thought we should go through the issue again. The point is not that police work should be dangerous. All human activities should be safe as possible. But the issue with policing is that as a society, we make such a big deal of the danger of police work. And this is used as an excuse for all manner of police abuse and incompetence. This would be bad enough if it were true that police work were really dangerous. But even that isn’t true.
One thing that I hear all the time is an officer saying (and more commonly, it being said for them), “When I leave for work, I don’t know if I’m coming home that night.” While technically true, it is also technically true of literally every person who leaves for work. Or you want to take it to absurd levels? “When I take a bath, I don’t know if I’m leaving that bathroom alive.” It’s true! In 2000, 341 Americans drown while taking a bath.
But you might counter this, “Yeah, but people drowning aren’t shot by criminals!” True enough. But most people who drown seem to fall and hit their heads. And here’s the thing: most police officers are not shot by criminals either. I discussed this in a related article, Let’s Not Turn Dead Police Officers Into Heroes. I noted, “The majority of police officers who die on the job, do so in traffic accidents. Thus far this year, there are almost as many health related deaths (mostly heart attacks) as shooting deaths.” So really, the most dangerous thing about being a police officer is driving so much — it means accidents and bad health because they sit around so much.
Ted also presented a chart that shows both total and violent deaths of police officers has gone down by almost a third in the last ten years. I know that Ted worked in and around law enforcement. He’s got a more positive view of the industry. I tend to think there is a more fundamental problem: police work (like politics) tends to attract the wrong kind of people for those jobs. But I think he is right that the issue is mostly one of management. The problem could clearly be minimized with better management. I am always reminded of something Jim Hogshire wrote in You Are Going to Prison, “Rape and other forms of violence happens in any prison in inverse proportion to the amount of time and effort the prison’s administrators put into stopping it.” I think it is largely the same thing in police departments.
But my interest in the subject is primarily about the way that police officers spend so much time whining about how difficult and dangerous their jobs are. And the bigger issue is that we as a society allow them to do it. I respect police officers in the same way that I respect any civil servants. They are people paid to do a job. They have a fair amount of power. I don’t want to make their lives hard. But I won’t stand for their abuse of power. And the “police work is dangerous” myth is nothing but an apologia for police misconduct.
 Jim was a taxicab driver in Texas many years ago. According to the graph above, that is a more danger job than being a police officer. He told me that he once crashed his cab when a customer threatened him with a gun. Jim was certain he was going to be murdered.
 It’s very possible that the myth is also helpful in keeping police salaries high. I don’t want to see their salaries lowered, however. I want to see effort made to bring back the middle class so that their quite reasonable salaries don’t stand out.