That 'War on Police' in 2015 Sure Was a Miserable Failure, Wasn't It?

As 2015 nears end, the numbers simply don't match the panic.


They're winning the War on Dogs, though.
Credit: OregonDOT / photo on flickr

Like every other "War on X" America embarks on, this year's War on Police was a complete disaster. Can't we do anything right? This alleged war resulted in the second-safest year for police officers in U.S. history. Former Reason Editor Radley Balko takes note over at The Washington Post that as 2015 comes to an end, there's been no real War on Police and there's been no real nationwide crime wave either. Balko explains the difference between comparing just this year's stats to last year's and the overall trend:

It's true that some cities like Baltimore, St. Louis and Detroit saw a significant and troubling rise in homicides this year. But those are isolated cases. In other cities, homicide were up, but only after long and historic drops.

Here in Nashville, for example, we saw 67 murders in 2015, up from 41 last year. (The figures are for all of Davidson County). At first blush, that seems like an alarming increase. And it has caused much consternation among politicians, the media and community leaders, with lots of calls for "action," whatever that means.

But last year was a historic low for the city and represented the floor of an overall 10-year decline. This year's total of 67 murders only takes the city back where it was in 2009, and is right at about the 10-year average of 66. For comparison, between 1971 and 1989, annual murders in Davidson County usually numbered in the 80 and 90s, and never dipped below 67 — and that was with 20 to 25 percent less population than the county has today.

And these are just raw numbers. The ten-year drop since there were more than 90 murders in 2005 has taken place in one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. Raw crime figures can drop only so low, particularly in a city that's growing by the day. And once they are at historic lows, even small increases look large when expressed as percentages.

Nevertheless, people typically think crime is getting worse, even though it's not.  Read more from Balko and the stats he's using from the American Enterprise Institute here. Even leaders of law enforcement are trying to point out that crime is declining, not increasing.

Now as for deaths caused by police officers, The Washington Post (and The Guardian as well) launched a database this year tracking fatal police shootings, because federal statistics are extremely incomplete. As of today, the Post records 959 people killed in police shootings. They note that more than 700 of them were in connection with a range of violent crimes like hostage situations and carjackings. Independent site KilledByPolice.net has a higher number, 1,168. If their numbers are accurate (note that this site documents killing by police, not just fatal shootings), this would be an increase over last year's estimate of 1,108.