|Photo by James Mitchell.|
By Carey Wedler
Throughout the United States, Americans believe there is a “war on police.” A recent survey found 58% of Americans agree with this sentiment. A new, privately-funded billboard campaign hijacks the “Black Lives Matter” moniker to read “Blue Lives Matter,” highlighting powerful pushback from law enforcement sympathizers against activists.
The FBI’s 2014 report, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA), released this week, appears to support the notion that police officers are in danger and unduly targeted. The number of officers killed by individuals committing “felonious acts” jumped from 27 in 2013 to 51 last year, and police apologists are all but guaranteed to point to this increase as proof their concerns are justified. A deeper examination of the data, however, reveals that police are not only safe, but still running rampant in their liberal use of violence against the citizens they allegedly serve.
In 2013, the FBI reported that 27 police officers were killed in the line of duty. By 2014, according to the new data, that number rose to 51. While this seems like a sharp uptick — in fact, it nearly doubled — the comparison on its own is misleading. Out of 536,119 officers included in the FBI’s 2014 analysis, .0095 percent of the force was killed on the job — less than one percent. While this represents an increase from the .005 percent of officers killed on the job in 2013 — the safest year for police in decades — neither figure signals an unrelenting assault on police officers.
As the Washington Post explained:
“[W]hen police advocates say that 2014 saw an 80+ percent increase in homicides of cops over 2013, remember a few things: First, 2013 wasn’t just an all-time low, it was an all-time low by a significant margin. Second, the 2013 figure was so low that even a small increase will look large when expressed as a percentage. Third, the figure for the following year, 2014, (51 officers killed) was essentially consistent with the average for the previous five years (50 killed), and still lower than any five-year average going back to 1960. Fourth, again, 2015 is on pace (35 killings) to be lower than any year but 2013.”
The nature of the officers’ deaths also provides insight into the “war on police”. Though the total number of officers murdered did increase from 27 to 51 from 2013 to 2014, the two biggest jumps came when officers were responding to disturbance calls or making traffic stops. In 2013, the number of officers killed during disturbance calls jumped from four to eleven, while traffic stop deaths increased from two to nine. In contrast, the number of ambushes on police officers — premeditated actions intended to hurt the officers — only increased by two, from five to seven. While this is nothing to celebrate, it actually constitutes a drop in the proportion of officers killed by ambush — the most intentional way to kill, or ‘wage war against’ — a cop. In 2013, 18.5% of all felonious deaths were a result of an ambush . In 2014, 13.7% of cops who died were ambushed.
Perhaps most revealing, however, is the FBI’s data on officers “assaulted” on the job. The FBI lists a startling figure for 2014:
Of 536,119 officers included in the report, 48,315 were assaulted. With 9% of all officers having been “assaulted,” on the job, it seems impossible to deny a concerted attack against law enforcement. However, that rate is lower than the previous year (9.3%). Further, the data becomes much less daunting when considering officers who were assaulted and injured as a result of the attack. In 2014, 13,654 officers reported sustained injuries from assault: just 2.5% of the entire force. This is also a small drop from the previous year, which saw 14,565 of 533,895 total officers injured (2.7%). This is an injury rate lower than that of construction workers, who clock in at 3.8%. Further, these figures do not take into account instances where officers claimed they were assaulted but in reality were not. There seems to be great potential for this discrepancy, especially since the FBI notes that “assailants used personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.) in 79.9 percent of the incidents.”
Interestingly, in both cases of assault and murder, the majority of assailants were white. In 2014, of 54 perpetrators, 42 were Caucasian while only 12 were African American. Two were Native American, one was Asian/Pacific Islander, and two were unknown. In 2013, 15 of 28 alleged killers were white — more than half. The government’s own data on attackers refutes another common, media driven falsehood: that rabid Black Lives Matter activists are spurring attacks against police.
Regardless of the facts the FBI itself released this week, one overarching factor should be cause enough to silence those who lament a war on police: every single year, the FBI constructs its meticulous LEOKA report from thousands of police departments around the country, crafting dozens of charts and tables to break down and detail the manner in which officers died (full report here). There is currently no such system in place for regular civilians killed by police, though one community database places the total at 1,108 for 2014.
In spite this dearth of information on who the government kills, the federal government only took action this month to attempt to record police shootings and deaths caused by officers — even though this problem has crippled communities, especially minority for years, if not decades. In contrast, despite the ongoing, intensive reporting by the FBI on police deaths, President Obama signed the “Blue Alert” law earlier this year to provide for even further calculation and analysis of threats and assaults to law enforcement. There is still no official total on the number of civilians killed by police.
While many outlets in the media propagate the narrative that police officers are under attack, the government’s own data speaks for itself. Though loud voices may decry police accountability activists and millions of Americans concerned about police overreach, the FBI’s report only further justifies their outrage.