Let’s chill out on the "War on Cops" rhetoric

If there is a “war on cops,” it is one of the most ineffective wars we have ever seen. As The Guardian points out, police officers are safer today in raw numbers than they have been in 25 years:

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), which keeps data on officer deaths going back over 100 years, 24 officers have been shot and killed by suspects this year. This puts the US on pace for 36 non-accidental, firearm-related police fatalities in 2015. Each one of such deaths is a tragedy for the officers killed, their families and the communities they serve, but this would be the lowest total in 25 years, aside from 2013 which saw 31 such deaths.

But those numbers look even better when you consider that there are many more cops on the street today than there were in 1990 and that the population is much bigger than it was then. Not only are police fatalities smaller in raw numbers today than 25 years ago, the fatality rate is down quite a bit too. According to the Justice Department, “There are more than 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers now serving in the United States.” This means 36 police officers murdered in 2015 amounts to 0.004% of all police officers in the country.

Why point this out? First of all, truth is good unto itself. If you have a false narrative that a lot of people believe, it is good to dispel the myths and correct the record.

But there are public policy ramifications too. If we’re misleading police officers – intentionally or not – they will be more nervous and more likely to use force if they feel threatened. This is especially true when many of the folks that police are dealing with are already unsavory individuals. This is not a criticism of police. It is an observation about human nature and the natural self-preservation instinct. Now matter how professional or well trained someone is, if that person has been fed false propaganda about how they are being targeted they will be extra careful.

Also, bad information leads to bad policy. Our policy makers need to know that there is no war on police, so they do not overreact with policies designed to fight against a war that is not actually happening. A crisis is a perfect opportunity for politicians to expand their power and restrict our liberty, so when there is actually not a crisis we need to point that out, loudly, clearly and (if necessary) repeatedly.

No one denies that one police officer killed in the line of duty is too many, just as any murder is one too many. But we must base our arguments (and especially our public policy) on reality, not on myths, paranoia and false memes.

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