After an investigation that cost more than $300,000, authorities announced today that Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, a police lieutenant in Fox Lake, Illinois, committed suicide on September 1. It had been clear for a while that this was a possibility, and news of this morning's announcement was leaked to the press last night. Now it's official: This was the "carefully planned" self-murder of an officer being investigated for "extensive criminal acts."
Ordinarily this sad story would just be local news. But Gliniewicz's death had initially been blamed on a mysterious ambush, and in the hysteria over the so-called "war on cops"—an alleged wave of guerilla assaults on law enforcement—his death was added to a national narrative. When Scott Walker was still in the presidential race, the candidate cited Gliniewicz while claiming that there was a "a disturbing trend of police officers being murdered on the job." When Pat Buchanan accused Barack Obama of "acting like a conscientious objector in this war on cops," Gliniewicz was his lead example. Breitbart.com initially reported Gliniewicz's death under the headline "WAR ON COPS: OFFICER SHOT AND KILLED IN CHICAGO SUBURB."
Meanwhile, 2015 is on track to be one of the safest years on record for American police officers. If you focus just on the number of cops killed in ambushes or execution-style, this year's total is in the single digits. And the number of killings where the motives have been definitively linked to an anti-cop ideology? I know of none in 2015. In 2014 I know of four, two of them before the Ferguson eruption and two of them afterward.
The Gliniewicz announcement comes a few days after another war-on-cops scare story—an alleged anarchist plot to murder officers on Halloween—melted away with so many other Halloween hoaxes. But don't be surprised when the war-on-cops legend nonetheless soldiers on. That story has been weaving in and out of the media for years now, fueled more by the state of public anxiety than by any substantial evidence that it's true. And right now, there's plenty of anxiety to go around.