Does Police Work Involve Special 'Bravery,' 'Courage,' or 'Risk,' As the White House Claims?


President Obama and police
White House

It's good to excel at your job—and if that excellence involves protecting the innocent and rescuing children, so much the better. Good stuff. But if we're going to recognize individuals who have done awesome things, is it entirely necessary to lavishly spread the praise so that their entire trade is stroked as especially courageous, even when the actual facts suggest it's one job among many, done by people of varying virtue?

Well, yeah. When it comes to cops and politicians, such mass petting apparently is necessary. Like when President Obama and Vice President Biden pasted on their smiles to honor the National Organization of Police Organizations' "Top Cops" winners at the White House.

Said Biden

And the President and I, we recognize the bravery that you display simply by putting on that shield every morning.  That, all by itself, is an act of bravery.  Strapping on your sidearm, kissing your husband or your wife goodbye at the door, walking out knowing—because most of you are experienced—knowing that you don't know with any degree of certitude what's about to greet you.  You have no idea—except some of it may not be good.

The officers we have here today have been singled out for going above and beyond the call of duty, and we commend each and every one of them.  And from my perspective, there's no greater honor that a law enforcement officer could have than being recognized and nominated by his fellow officers—because you all know what real courage is.  You all know what kind of steel in your spine it takes to make the decisions that the men standing behind me have made.

We also know that there are thousands and thousands of more law enforcement officers out there on the job today and every day who are taking risks that are hard for ordinary people to imagine.  They take risks to protect the community, protect the people they don't know, protect people they've never met.  But they go out there and you all do it anyway, regardless of whether or not—where they're from, who they are, whether you know them or not.

"Bravery"? "Courage"? "Risk"? So this is the White House edition of Deadliest Catch?

That might make sense. For years, commercial fishing was the most dangerous trade in which an American could engage. In 1995, risking your life to gather fresh seafood carried a score of 21.3 on the Bureau of Labor Statistic Index of Relative Risk. Police work came in at 3.4. Driving a taxi scored at 9.5.

Even if you limit the danger to homicide, cashiers, cabbies, and "Supervisors, proprietors, sales" carried greater risks of being murdered on the job.

Have the relative dangers for police work increased since 1995?

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Well…There's a change. People are now falling out of trees more often than they're falling overboard. But law enforcement still isn't in the top rank of dangerous jobs.

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, there were 100 on-the-job deaths in 2013, down from 183 in 1995 (and 280 in 1974).

Which doesn't lessen the individual bravery involved in "Storming an underground bunker to rescue a kidnapped five-year-old boy"—one of the feats honored at the White House. And it's good when work gets safer.

But, reality TV aside, lumberjacks don't draw the same kind of official praise as police officers. Nor do commercial fishermen. Or airline pilots. Or roofers.

And lumberjacks and company don't wield the same sort of power over their neighbors, not always for the sort of praiseworthy purposes touted at the White House ceremony. Law enforcement is increasingly militarized, larded with special authority, and prone to civil liberties abuses. Police are also increasingly resented by ther fellow Americans for the same, even if politicians don't quite get that lots of folks don't appreciate getting pushed around by uniformed enforcers.

Then again, maybe that's politicians like them so much—at least, so long as they know who butters their bread.

As Obama said:

And let me start by thanking Joe Biden not only for being a great Vice President—which he is—but also being a lifelong friend of law enforcement.  (Applause.)  Now, he and I have a special reason for loving law enforcement, because we have the unusual privilege of being surrounded by law enforcement every minute of every day. (Laughter.)  And they also protect the people we love most in the world—our families.  So we're incredibly grateful to them and to all the law enforcement officers who serve and protect families and communities across the nation every single day.

Too Praetorian for my taste. Better to praise the standouts—and keep a close eye on the rest.

NEXT: Alec Baldwin Booked by NYPD After Biking in Wrong Direction, Calls City a 'Mismanaged Carnival of Stupidity'

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. OT: STOP DRINKING THESE 8 BEERS IMMEDIATELY, because GMO’s, or something.

    1. Natural flavors! Carregeenan! GMOs! faints

    2. Hilarious that PBR is on there. Now what are hipsters supposed to drink?

      1. NYC tap water saturated with barley and hops, doesn’t get any more hipster than that.

      2. PBR??? Fuck that shit. Heineken!

      3. So true. They can take there brown bags and run.

    3. Outside of Guinness, I wouldn’t miss any of them. But then again I don’t give a shit about their GMO BS.

    4. These guys did this great takedown of that article here-


      1. I remember that. The Food Babe is irritating.

    5. A shot of ethylene glycol will kill you. Using propylene glycol as a mixer won’t.

    6. A disengenious cunt who should be shunned from further public discourse.

  2. Politicians stroke the egos of the people most likely to do exactly what they say when things inevitably get messy. Film at 11!

  3. Dunphy is the cop we deserve, not the cop we need.

  4. More fellating of the pigs.

    1. HEROES

      Bow down and grovel bitch.

    2. Yeah. Copsuckers, one and all.

  5. A job where you have extraordinary deadly powers and your first priority is self-preservation? There’s nothing more heroic.


    1. You forgot to mention qualified immunity and the blue wall of silence.

  6. Gurgle, gurgle.

  7. Have the relative dangers for police work increased since 1995?

    Did 9/11 not change everything? Because I was under the impression that it had.

  8. Having watched Axmen, I can reliably affirm that those idiots don’t have the sense and self-preservation God gave the gnat.

    1. So the Axmen will deliberately throw themselves into my eyes so they can drown in my tears? Neat.

  9. One other barometer of how dangerous a job might be would be workman’s comp insurance rates.

    The rates I saw, being a cop was hardly dangerous. There were scads of jobs with higher rates. Far higher rates.

    Why so much smoke must be blown up the asses of cops is puzzling.

    1. I remember reading an article awhile back about the most dangerous jobs. Law enforcement didn’t even make the top ten. The most dangerous, IIRC, were coal miners and Alaskan crab fishers.

    2. Because if you blow smoke in their face they’ll shoot you.

    3. They have numbers, they have a union and they have many admirers within their communities. That translates to votes and money and power.

  10. Did they all go to a titty bar and get “complimentary” lap dances and cocktails afterward?

    1. No, they went out with the Secret Service for hookers and blow.

    2. C’mon. They went to the town dump for a dog-shootin’. Maybe a homeless guy or two, if they got lucky.

  11. The whole “being a cop is super-dangerous” myth just reinforces the violent tendencies of cops. They believe their own myth, and so they believe that they are within millimeters of being maimed or killed at all times, which justifies their hair-trigger paranoia and justifies the violence they inflict.

    1. Fortunately for the cop, it’s the criminal’s fault if somebody is killed due to the cop’s violence when “apprehending” him…

  12. It looks to me like ROADZ are once again the top killer by volume.

  13. This whole thing is getting so bad, they should do a segment on MythBusters called “Cops as Heroes”.

    The thing is – people think that being “Brave” is synonymous with being a “Hero”. Personally, those are different things.

    And people think that the tiny chance of something really dangerous happening means that all police officer’s jobs are dangerous.

    We need a reset on what “Hero” means. Simply holding a particular job should not be enough.

  14. Cops on average encounter situations far less risky than firefighters and paramedics while carrying a maximum of protective equipment and theoretically having the advantage of training, numbers, and surprise. A cop can stroll down a city street with a pistol, pairs of handcuffs, ballistic vest, Taser and baton, and nobody will bat an eye. They’re members of a gang with no rivals, state authority, and a policy of backing each other up at all times regardless of circumstances. In any given conflict, police have an immediate advantage. Sorry, but my definition of heroism is not so watered-down as to hail one of these officers for successfully ambushing and detaining unarmed pedestrians or sleeping homeowners.

    1. And of no real or effective obligation to oppose unconstitutional laws. How many cops have been fired for refusing to arrest a perp for simply possession of a plant for example. You’d think with the millions of “heroes” in this country you’d see a couple dozen a year saying they won’t arrest a person for such and such based on either ethical or constitutional grounds. Just following orders.

  15. Yeah, but every episode of Cops has a massive shootout over a huge cache of drugs and automatic weapons during a routine traffic stop, so, like, you can’t possibly understand what cops go through.

  16. Some good ones get killed- http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014…..-memorial/

  17. Well interestingly enough a fellow police college graduate and myself looked at those statistics early in our careers and indeed you are more likely to die on the job as a farmer than as a police officer. If I had to guess I’d say that on the job military fatality rates(taken for the entire military) might also actually be lower than some other jobs.

    But I think just looking at fatal work injury rates kind of misses the point.

    Interpersonal human violence has been called the universal phobia. There are a few people out there who don’t fear it, or indeed embrace it, but they are usually considered to be suffering some kind of mental illness. Police officers deal with this type of violence everyday, and it is often directed at them.

    I know people might not like the “walk a mile in my shoes” argument but I think it holds some water here. The vast majority of people probably experience true human violence and aggression directed at them a handful of times in their lives. Indeed many people experience it not at all. I would suggest that many of the commenters here have never had that horrible sinking, hollow stomach feeling when another human suddenly and violently decides that their one and only goal at this moment in time is to do you harm….as much harm as humanly possible.


  18. Not a hockey fight, or a boxing match….not a school yard scrap, but real, horrible violence. If you have been the target of such a thing, you know its the most gut wrenching feeling in the world.

    Almost every police officer knows this feeling, and knows it well because it happens on a regular basis.

    I still consider myself a libertarian, as I did before I got into law enforcement. I’m mostly against the militarization of police. I’m all for citizens rights to carry firearms and protect themselves(although here in my home country Canada you cannot in most circumstances).

    All that said, being in law enforcement myself, I will usually defend police officers when other who, have probably rarely been touched by crime and violence, and most likely live in well to do quiet neighbourhoods, bash the police for no good reason.

    People will always single out negative events around policing, where police make mistakes, or do the wrong thing. As they should. But keep in mind for every mistake or bad cop, a thousand good cops do their best to keep the peace, and be a barrier between horrible violence and crime, and citizens just trying to live their lives.

    1. Military flight engineer so shove it! My statistical chance of death is better than yours so I must be better ….

      Seriously, the human aspect you mention is what most people don’t get. Going to work every day knowing your going to deal with a better than average chance of violence or death takes a unique mentality.

      1. No doubt certain military trades would have a pretty high “fatal work injury rate” while others would be close to normal, everyday workers.

        I guess it’s worth making the point also that most law enforcement, and military members(I spent some time in a green uniform as well) don’t ask for special recognition. We’ll take it if we get it, but, most you will find are fairly humble about what they do. And they’d keep doing what they do everyday regardless of accolades or demerits.

  19. When police work gets dangerous, it gets very dangerous, very fast. There is a lot of bravery and heroism in policing. But, here’s a lot of crap we don’t like, too.

    We don’t like that cops enforce the laws we don’t like. We don’t like drug enforcement. We don’t like speed enforcement. We don’t like lemonade stand enforcement. I get it. Cops represent the legitimate use of force to enforce the illegitimate overreach of government. Most of police work is not dangerous. In fact most of police work is dull and boring. Hence the donuts and the large middle-aged cops. But cops do get the murderers, robbers and those crazies who keep taking guns into schools and shooting kids. Not all gun owners are crazies, mind you. Not all cops are authoritarian pricks either, although many can be. (OK, many are.) Granting some in society authority leads to abuse. That has been seen and even replicated experimentally. There’s no question.

    I think Reason is making a mistake marginalizing officers as opposed to the whole system. Call out the wrong doers, keep an eye on the rest, but don’t punish the whole class for the bad apples.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.