The men and women who stand guard against America’s predators have themselves always been subject to sudden and deadly attacks. And there have always been attempts within professional and academic institutions to identify causes for these attacks—always with an eye toward mitigating them. Despite such efforts, each year finds additional names joining the more than 19,000 that already adorn the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Finding the root of the carnage is problematic and the answers are elusive. Felonious killings of officers spring from a variety of sources: from a suspect's chemically impaired judgment, paranoid ideation, or personal agenda; to an officer's inability to adequately respond to a threat; to inefficiencies in police administration; to a fateful intersection of time and circumstance. In a trio of studies dedicated to law enforcement safety, the FBI dubbed this confluence of variables the "deadly mix."
Some in the news media would have us believe that the deadly mix is now more potent than ever. The alarming number of officers killed in the first quarter of this year found U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder launching an Officer Safety Initiative to look into the matter.
A cursory glance at the numbers seemingly underscores such concerns. Thirty-one officers were feloniously shot and killed from January through mid-May 2011—a 34 percent increase over the same period a year before.
But is this merely a statistical anomaly? Or is something else truly at work?
The annual FBI study of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in 2010 reported that of the 56 murders of officers, 15 were killed in ambushes, eight were investigating suspicious persons, seven were killed in traffic pursuits or stops, six were responding to disturbance calls, and the rest were killed doing other police work.
Professor David Klinger reminds us, numbers only tell part of the story and the death toll of recent months may not be as unusual as some think. "The high point in terms of officers murdered in the last decade was 2001. Seventy officers were feloniously killed, and that's not including the 72 killed in the 9/11 attacks."
Greg Ridgeway, director of the Center on Quality Policing for the RAND Corporation, likewise hesitates to characterize these killings as a trend. "That doesn't mean we can't learn a lot from those incidents that go horribly wrong, but I hesitate to say that there's a long-term trend here at work."
The temptation to take an alarmist view of things can be strong, but the fact remains that more officers have been killed in recent years.
One long-held belief has been that increases in cop killings have historically corresponded with increases in violent crime. As recently as 2007, a spike in officer deaths correlated to a 15 percent spike in violent crime. However, the bump in the numbers of officers killed in 2010 and 2011 coincided with a decline in violent crime elsewhere.
In Chicago, murder rates dropped precipitously during 2010, a year that saw three officers shot and killed (in one of the shootings, a retired law enforcement officer was also assassinated). Illinois eventually saw nine of its officers die during that same time span, and the state of Florida actually surpassed that number in the first few months of 2011. So while murder rates have fallen across the country overall, law enforcement has not been a beneficiary of such drops. Which leaves a lot of researchers scratching their heads and some others saying, "I told you so."
Programmed To Kill
A decade ago, researchers predicted skyrocketing crime rates by 2010 as Generation Y, weaned on rap songs and violent video games, began to come of age. Taken at face value, the numbers belie the contention: There has not been a demonstrable uptick of crime within that demographic.
However, if the fluctuating of statistics over the past two decades does not necessarily serve to bolster such contentions, then the claims of the suspects do. Time and again, defense attorneys have pointed to the pernicious influence of countless hours spent listening to murderous rap songs, watching violent movies, and playing so-called "cop killer" video games.
Perhaps the most infamous example is Devin Moore, who as a teenager shot and killed two Alabama police officers and a dispatcher while fleeing a police station. Moore shot his way through the station with an ease and familiarity learned from months spent playing the video game "Grand Theft Auto." Upon his ultimate apprehension he said, "Life is a video game. Everybody's got to die sometime." Moore was convicted and sentenced to death two years later.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, co-author of the 1999 treatise "Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence," says that video games, TV, and movies are giving kids killing skills and teaching them that cops are fitting targets for their murderous urges.
"The kid playing 'Grand Theft Auto,' which is a cop-killing simulator, at 6-7-8-9-years-old is 'programmed' to be a cop-killing gangbanger like nothing we have ever seen before," says Grossman. "Then there is the impact of cop-hating movies. How many movies can you think of where the cop is the bad guy? Even the good cops spend most of their time hunting down 'bad cops.' Combine this with trendy cop haters in the liberal news media, twisting and distorting the news, emphasizing any bad news about cops, reinforcing their own left-wing beliefs and raining sympathy on the 'poor abused' criminals. Finally, there is the impact of gangs (with gang membership on the rise) who tell kids that the cops are the enemy."