On the surface such a statement seems absurd. However, strictly by occupational death statistics, it’s also true. According to the US Department of Labor, statistically speaking, the most lethal jobs in the US are as follows:
1. Fisherman and related fishing workers
3. Aircraft pilots
4. Refuse collectors
6. Structural iron and steel workers
7. Farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers
8. Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers
9. Electrical power line installers
10. Taxi drivers and chauffeurs
Nationwide only 33 police officers were killed by gunfire in 2013 – the lowest number since 1887. That’s right, more than 125 years. Another thing to consider is the 1887 population of the United States was four times less than it is today.
According to statistics the total number of officers killed in the line of duty is the lowest since 1959. But, what does it all mean? To quote the immortal Mark Twain, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”
So why would anyone claim police work isn’t dangerous?
Some people are just uninformed. But to those with a mission of cutting pay, pensions and benefits, the first thing an agenda driven politician needs to do is rally the public. By using exaggerated salaries, the average public worker is easy to vilify. But to the politicos who understand most people actually appreciate cops, trying to vilify them will take more work. The best shot they have is to use deceptive statistics to convince citizens that, “anyone can do the job” and “police work isn’t dangerous.”
Here’s the truth. There’s a number of reasons officer mortality rates are falling and none of them are related to police work not being dangerous. Some of the main reasons officer mortality rates are falling across the US can be attributed to the following:
1. Better vehicles. Police officers are now driving safer cars than at any time in history. Witness the number of officers across the US that have, in the past five years, been in non fatal traffic accidents that would have been killed them just a few years earlier. The truth is advanced engineering, air bags and wearing seatbelts have gone a long way in saving the lives.
2. Better body armor. Not only are more officers wearing body armor, it’s much higher quality than just a few years before. Since Kevlar was introduced as a ballistic safety device in the 1970’s the National Institute of Justice estimates it has saved the lives of more than 3000 officers.
3. Better weapons and tactics. The six shot revolver, a standard in policing for almost 100 years, was, for the most part, phased out in the 1980’s. Higher capacity firearms in both caliber and magazine capability have made the difference between life and death in a number of armed encounters across the US.
4. Better training. What new officers are subjected to now is night and day between the training of fifty years ago. Concepts such as officer survival, active shooter, etc, have also made a difference between life and death for many officers across the US.
5. Better medicine. During WWII soldiers seriously wounded on the battlefield had a 90% chance of dying. Now, soldiers seriously wounded on the battlefield stand a 90% chance of survival. So what changed? Advances in medical techniques, the ability to quickly evacuate someone to a highly skilled trauma unit and powerful new medicines now have people surviving trauma that would have been sure death even 20 years ago. The in-field use of trauma kits has also made a difference as illustrated when two San Diego county sheriff’s deputies were shot in the line of duty in Lakeside on September 25, 2012. There are other examples.
Something else to consider: of the top 10 most dangerous professions, the leading cause of death is accidents. Few loggers, sales people and farmers are murdered and even fewer are taken out because of their chosen profession. Christopher Dorner was a graphic reminder that there are evil people who will actively seek to kill a cop simply for the uniform he/she wears.
It would be counterintuitive to think chasing an armed subject down a dark alley is not dangerous.
It would be counterintuitive to think running towards an unfolding catastrophe – as others wisely run away – isn’t dangerous.
It would be counterintuitive to think jumping on a stolen Army tank isn’t
Unfortunately, to those who with an agenda and to those who judge the dangers of police work but one statistic alone, it is exactly their mentality. What they fail to consider is if police work isn’t dangerous why are cops armed? Why are they highly trained? Why do they utilize the most advanced safety equipment available?
Another factor to be considered: perhaps officers are taking fewer chances than before.
As officer mortality rates have fallen, the numbers of officer involved shootings have been following an upward trend. Officers killed 414 people in the line of duty in 2009; 397 in 2010; 404 in 2011; and 410 in 2012. The 400 mark had not been exceeded in the preceding decade, according to the FBI's justified homicide statistics. There were 308 such killings in 1999.
No one would ever claim war is less dangerous but the truth is the US had more soldiers killed between 1968 -1969 in the Vietnam War then they have in the two armed conflicts and twelve years since 09/11/2001.
So why do they do it with police work?
The truth is law enforcement is dangerous. Like the military, we have just become better at managing it and preparing for the hazards it presents. Apparently we have become so good at it some people are no longer looking beyond the sound bite as to what it all means.
There’s a fight coming in the next few years over pensions and pay. It started in San Diego but it is picking up steam nationwide. Stay tuned, you’ll soon hear elected officials suggesting police work isn’t dangerous. If they win that argument they will win over a public that doesn’t completely understand the job. The end result will be police officers everywhere will lose.