“The war on our police must end,” Donald Trump forcefully demanded during a speech in Wisconsin in August. “It must end now.”
This sentiment is often parroted by right-wing outlets and savored by cop-loving Americans who should (according to what’s left of their ideological principles) harbor the utmost skepticism toward institutions of government.
Yet no matter how many times the mythical war on cops is refuted, the perception of a brutal war on police officers persists, especially in light of recent, highly-publicized attacks on law enforcement this summer — the ultimately predictable result of repeated instances in which citizens, often minorities, were unnecessarily killed by police officers.
But according to the FBI’s most recent installment of its annual “Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted” report, the paranoid trope of a war on cops is entirely unfounded. So unfounded, in fact, that more police officers died by accident than were killed as a result of “felonious” behavior, as the FBI calls it.
In 2015, the latest year for which the FBI has analyzed data, 41 police officers died as a result of the felonious actions of others. Forty-five died in accidents — 40 of which were attributable to traffic and/or automobile-related incidents.
Aside from the fact more cops lost their lives by accident than were killed is the fact that the number of police officers killed feloniously last year actually dropped from the previous year. According to the FBI’s report for 2014, 51 police officers were killed in the line of duty as a result of “felonies” committed by another party.
Even the FBI’s press release for its latest report, issued last week, acknowledges the consistent decrease. “The five- and 10-year comparisons show a decrease of 31 felonious deaths compared with the 2011 figure (72 officers) and a decrease of seven deaths compared with 2006 data (48 officers),” the agency explains.
Further, as the Washington Post noted at the end of last year, the deadliest time to be a police officer was actually decades ago:
“Gun-related police deaths in the US per 1 million population were about 6 times higher in the 1970s (0.674 in 1971) and 14-17 times higher during America’s War on Alcohol (Prohibition), when it was as high as 1.55 per 1 million in 1921 (the first full year of the War on Beer).”
Even so, any number of lives lost is worthy of regret and concern. Forty-one officers are 41 too many for their families, friends, and loved ones. But deaths on the job caused by the illegal actions of others, unjust as they may be, do not necessarily constitute a war on police.
For example, the vast majority of these 41 officer deaths were caused during traffic stops, SWAT raids, domestic disturbance calls, and other similar incidents. While these instances of cop murders are inexcusable and certainly highlight increased tensions between citizens and police officers, they hardly represent a targeted, premeditated movement to murder police — as the phrase “war on cops” suggests.
In total, seven officers were murdered in explicitly premeditated attacks; according to the 2015 report, four were ambushed and three were killed in “unprovoked” attacks. That’s a total of seven officers, according to the FBI, who were intentionally killed for (apparently) no other reason than their job title and uniform.
In fact, the number of officers killed by ambush or “unprovoked” attacks actually dropped one from the previous year. Further, the number of police officers who die every year – including in incidents in which their deaths were not overtly planned in advance — has jumped up and dropped down throughout recent years.
Unsurprisingly, Fox News has argued otherwise. As they ‘reported’ last year on the 2014 figures, which showed 51 officers had been killed:
“More troubling than plummeting morale are statistics that show police lives are in more danger than they have been in years. According to new preliminary data released by the FBI on Monday, the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in 2014 nearly doubled to 51 from 27 the previous year.”
It’s true the figure rose from 27 to 51. But if indeed a war on cops in the United States existed and were escalating, the number of police officers dying each year would escalate continuously. We already know this isn’t happening since the number of officers killed in 2015 was ten less than in 2014.
While the numbers for 2016 will likely increase considering the attacks on officers in Dallas and elsewhere around the country directly following several egregious cases of police violence, this represents an apparently normal fluctuation.
According to the FBI’s own data, the number of officers killed every year (for any reason other than an accident while on duty) has varied anywhere between 27 (2013) and 72 (2011) between 2004 and 2015. The years 2004 and 2005 saw 57 and 55 officers feloniously killed, respectively, but that number had dropped to 41 by 2008 — the same figure as 2015 —when the supposed war on cops was in full swing.
Further, though over 50,000 police were assaulted in 2016, as reported by officers and police departments. But that rate, too, is misleading. Considering 79% of cases involved what is categorized as a ‘personal weapon” — fists, legs, and other body parts — and only about 28% of officers sustained injuries from these attacks, this leaves the actual figures up to interpretation.
Should all officers who claim they’ve been assaulted be trusted — especially when few have physical injuries to prove it? Often, officers claim they were attacked by citizens, only to have their allegations debunked by video evidence. It is doubtful the FBI viewed video evidence of each alleged assault against a police officer.
Does any of this mean it’s okay for police officers to be killed? Of course not. It does, however, mean the paranoid belief that law and order are under attack is unfounded at best — and propaganda at worst.
If anything, the palpable disruption in law and order sweeping the country is being perpetrated by the police themselves, who have already killed 786 people in 2016 — and if those who love police sincerely hope to avoid a true war on cops in the future, they would do well to acknowledge the concerns of those peacefully protesting now.