Is The Increasing Number of Cops Killed by Perps Really a "Disturbing Trend"?

Ten times more civilians were killed by cops than cops were killed by civilians in 2008, but you won’t find that information in Tuesday’s New York Times story on the “disturbing trend” of officers killed by perps.

“As violent crime has decreased across the country, a disturbing trend has emerged,” reads the lede of the Times story. “Rising numbers of police officers are being killed.”

Newspapers live and die by trend stories. If three dogs are spotted in a park wearing S&M outfits, or five women in disparate parts of America are revealed to be potty training their cats, then a trend is happening, and The New York Times will tell you all about it.

In this case, the trend is “72 officers were killed by perpetrators in 2011, a 25 percent increase from the previous year and a 75 percent increase from 2008.”

But we should ask ourselves: What makes a trend? If it’s statistical significance, then 72 perp-caused deaths in 2011 versus 56 in 2010 is statistically less noteworthy than the increase in deaths from whooping cough (26 in 2010, versus 15 in 2009), Arthropod-borne viral encephalitis (9 in 2010, versus 2 in 2009), and malaria (9 in 2010, versus 3 in 2009); yet none of those increases made the front page of the Times.

The story also fails every other applicable trend test. 

Let’s say, for instance, that there were other, less mathemetical considerations. Let’s say the Times wanted to highlight an increase in perpetrators killing police officers as reflective of an increasingly anti-authoritarian or lawless republic—hence the use of the modifier “disturbing” before the word “trend.”

That argument doesn’t hold water, either. According to the FBI, “Most (57) of the alleged offenders had prior criminal arrests.” As of 2009--the most recent year for which data is available--there were 1,021,456 law enforcement officers employed in the United States. Assuming that number didn’t go down significantly in two years, is the killing of 72 LEOs versus 56 representative of a larger cultural shift? No. If that number went up, then the number of killings, as a percentage of total number of LEO, may be stagnant or even--gasp--a decrease. 

There’s arguably an even bigger problem with the Times' story, and that's the absence of any data about how many civilians the cops have killed, even though that information is widely available, as demonstrated by the Advocacy Center for Equality and Democracy:

  • From 2003 to 2009, 4,813 people died in relation to an arrest in “all manners of deaths.” Each year ranged from 627 (2003) to 745 (2007). Source – Andrea M. Burch, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics,Arrest-Related Deaths, 2003-2009 – Statistical Tables, November 2011.
  • Of those, 2,913 (about 6 in 10) were reported as “homicide by law enforcement.” Each year ranged from 375 (2004) to 497 (2009). See Burch.
  • In the only year in which the NYT article and the Bureau of Justice Statistics report overlap, 2008, law enforcement killed roughly 10 times the number of people during arrests (404) than officers killed (41). See Burch.
  • Since 2001, at least 500 people have been killed as a result of being tasered by officers in the United States alone.

The ACED then did a little spelunking in the Times archive, and found:

When the NYT reported the findings of a BJS study on arrest-related deaths (an earlier study covering only 2003-2005), it also included the number of deaths of police officers over that period, and even pointed out that there were “174,760 assaults on law enforcement officers during the three-year period.” Again, today’s article about the killing of officers made no mention of the number of civilians killed by law enforcement or police brutality.

And speaking of trends, here’s one the Times didn’t touch (but that Reason did):

In 2010, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) had a 50 percent increase in the number of “perception” shootings—shootings in which “deputies perceive, accurately or not, that a suspect may be armed or going for a gun” and then fire their own weapons. According to a report compiled for the department by the Police Assessment Resource Center, a non-profit group that analyzes local and state police agencies, “A little more than half of those suspects were holding an object such as a cell phone or sunglasses that was believed by deputies to be a possible firearm.”

LASD deputies fired on 260 people from 2005 through 2010. Sixty-one percent of those shootings involved suspects who were later determined to be unarmed. “Waistband shootings,” in which suspects were fired upon after reaching toward their waists, increased from one-fifth of all incidents to one-third. In almost half of those incidents, the suspects were found to be unarmed. Ninety-six percent of the suspects fired upon by sheriff’s deputies were black or Latino.

And that’s just one county.

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  • Auric Demonocles||

    1) Alt-text. Learn it. Love it. Live it.

    2) Did they look into the number of cops? If the number of cops doubled then going from 56 to 72 deaths would actually mean it had gotten safer to be a cop.

    3) Aren't we at the bottom of some like 20 year decline in cop deaths?

  • Paul.||

    Good point. Didn't Clinton put 10,000 more cops on our streets?

  • nipplemancer||

    3) Aren't we at the bottom of some like 20 year decline in cop deaths?

    IIRC we're at the very bottom historically.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    So another way to put this would be "Third lowest cop fatality rate ever"?

  • Zeb||

    The analysis of the number of cops getting killed should be something like "wow that's not many, I guess being a cop is pretty safe". If out of the millions of cops in the US, only 75 get killed in a year, that is pretty damn good. The percentage change is completely meaningless when you are dealing with such an insignificantly small number.

  • Coeus||

    Not to mention how a good many of that number were shot by other cops.

  • ||

    So the Times isn't even liberal, or espousing liberal concerns. It's just a mouthpiece for the establishment narrative, namely, evil crimedoers kill cops for no reason, and nothing else happened.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    It's just a mouthpiece for the establishment narrative, namely, evil, gun owning crimedoers kill cops for no reason, and nothing else happened.

    FIFY

    This is all about the narrative that gun owners are all part of an evil, anti-government faction who will kill agents of the state for no reason whatsoever other than they are agents of the state.

  • AlmightyJB||

    This is actually all about the narritive that police departments want more money. Heard some cop talking about this on the radio this morning. The increase in deaths is directly caused by the "major cuts in police budgets around the country". Seriously he actually said that. Not sure what cuts he's talking about but he no displayed no shame in using the deaths of his fellow officers to try to get more money.

  • ||

    Yes.

  • ||

    Oh, digging the red highlighting of new posts via reasonable, btw.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    What is this red highlighting of which you speak?

    I don't see any red highlighting.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Nevermind.

    NOW I see it, though I'd argue that it's pink highlighting rather than red.

  • ||

    I thought orangish till I read it but I see the pink too. So I'm just gonna call it salmon.

  • Paul.||

    I only see orange.

  • Amakudari||

    It's Reason Orange, just heavily lightened. I'm considering making it more visible if people don't like it as is (designed to be enough to distinguish new posts but not annoy you if it's applied to a few dozen new ones).

  • ||

    I just reminds me of the bloodstains on all my shirts, and blood = red in my mind.

  • John||

    Even if it is a trend, that doesn't necessarily raise the questions the Times thinks it does. If more officers are being killed, maybe that is the result of perps just getting more dangerous. But isn't just as likely that that is the result of police engaging in more aggressive and dangerous behavior?

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Why do you hate the brave men and women in blue, John?

    Of course running around like storm troopers while wearing military style uniforms and using military tactics to apprehend those who only pose a danger to the Dorito bag in their pantry don't cause violence.

    Speaking of which, I saw a Vehicle Enforcement Officer (a cop whose job it is to enforce trucking regulations) wearing a military style uniform while carrying a gun on his waist and one on his ankle, an extending metal baton, and a taser. Seriously.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Speaking of which, I saw a Vehicle Enforcement Officer (a cop whose job it is to enforce trucking regulations) wearing a military style uniform while carrying a gun on his waist and one on his ankle, an extending metal baton, and a taser. Seriously.

    Considering how many truckers use stuff like meth to stay awake, that kinda makes sense.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Seriously?

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Because I know LOTS of truckers. I hand out with them. Play cards with them. Work with them on their farms when they're not driving. Hear stories from their over 2 centuries of combined experience, and never once have I seen reason to believe that truckers should be singled out as somehow more dangerous than anyone else.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    hand=hang

  • Paul.||

    I liked it with 'hand' better.

  • sarcasmic||

    Considering that that code enforcer is checking that the trucker has taken meticulous notes proving that he has not been on the road long enough to warrant taking meth to stay awake, your comment is stupid.

  • Tonio||

    Truckers are now randomly drug-tested, HM. Also, they can only drive a certain number of hours per day, and have to keep records.

  • sarcasmic||

    They like to be as intimidating as possible.
    If you don't show fear then they're doing their job wrong.

  • ||

    And if you show fear, you have something to hide.

  • John||

    Wow. It just shows their warped thinking. If I am running a police force and I start losing officers, the first thing that will run through my head is, how can be reduce our risk while still enforcing the law. Their response seems to be "how can we kill them before they kill us".

  • Pinky||

    It would be instructive to net out or otherwise account for the deaths that occured in the course of police initiated assaults on residences.

  • John||

    I would bet a good number of them happened during traffic stops. Given that, maybe it is a bad idea to have cops spend most of their day pulling people over on bullshit traffic violations.

  • sarcasmic||

    How would you replace the revenue?

  • John||

    Don't you care about cops' safety? You greedy bastard.

  • sarcasmic||

    I mean replacing the revenue from bullshit traffic violations.

    The state does count on that you know.

    (At least around here the departments don't get a cut, same with asset forfeiture, which means they have less of an incentive to be total pricks. Then again they sought out a job that allows them to intimidate people for fun. Why do they need incentive?)

  • ||

    Cut pay and benefits?

  • ||

    **Lights dunphy signal**

  • Loki||

    That would be the huge spotlight that we shine into the sky in the shape of a giant cock, right?

  • ||

    No, silly, that one summons Bruce Vilanch.

  • General Butt Naked||

    I wouldn't expect him.

    He's too busy driving his ferrari to the world powerlifting championships, which he's an easy favorite to win. Then he's jamming with the remaining members of The Clash, and after that he's got a dinner date with Ms Washington, and after that he's got to run home and write some code that Bill Gates personally requested, and after that he's got to teach a bunch of rookies hand to hand combat and firearms technique, and after that he's...

  • Trespassers W||

    That was well done.

  • Tonio||

    Bravo, General, bravo.

  • nipplemancer||

    two strips of bacon sizzling in a frying pan?

  • Paul.||

    Seattle Media's latest trend story: Children are finding their parents guns and accidentally shooting themselves or others.

    One columnist suggested extra traning was required for anyone to own a firearm, then she goes on recite a police officer who left his gun unattended in a vehicle only to have one child shoot the other.

    Because cops need more firearms training... or something.

  • Ministry of Sophistry||

    Anyone have statistics that compare the likelihood of a person being shot by a find a gun Darwin cChild versus a gotta gun Darwin Cop?

  • Rick O'Shay||

    Not a statisctic, but a hilarious video of a DEA agent talking to a bunch of kids at school, then shooting himself in the leg. You probably already saw this, it's old. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeGD7r6s-zU

  • Trespassers W||

    If there is indeed a trend, then that's evidence that children need better firearms training.

  • Paul.||

    Two recent cases of cops' children finding their firearm and shooting themselves or others. So I'm guessing Johnny Law had his service Glock cocked and locked.

  • ||

    there were like 3 in a week, 2 sets of parents have been charged already. guess which one hasn't been?

  • Paul.||

    Yep, but we all knew that was going to happen.

  • Gerholdt||

    The trend is that LEOs are getting more trigger-happy (partly due to articles like this) and a suspect with a gun rightly figures that his best chance of surviving is to shoot first. The problem is that without training and regular practice, he's not going to make that head shot very often.

  • sarcasmic||

    I wonder what the stats are on all these police shootings being ruled as justified.

    I'd put my money on 100%.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I'll take the under. But just barely.

  • Pip||

    Given that cops can kill with impunity, it only stands to reason that what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

  • Mensan||

    Ten times more civilians were killed by cops than cops were killed by civilians in 2008 ...

    Cops are civilians (except MPs).

  • Rick O'Shay||

    Cops aren't "civilians." They are almost 100% un-accountable.

  • Brendan||

    The number of assaults is meaningless since the police consider nearly everything they don't like to be "assault".

    People have been accused of assault for backing away, for pulling away from a light touch, for injuries the officer sustained while chasing someone, etc.

  • CZmacure||

    you won't see any sympathy from me if cops being killed really was a "disturbing trend"

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