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Cover Story

Line-of-Duty Deaths: The War on Cops

Since the beginning of the year, more than 31 officers have been feloniously killed. Is this just one bad year or a portent of things to come?

July 25, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

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.

New Normal?

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."

Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

Theresa Kennedy @ 7/25/2011 8:08 PM

We need to figure something out, that changes public perception of police for young people and also for criminals, so that these unbalanced and volatile people don't direct their hate and anger onto police, using police as a scapegoat for the troubles of their lives. The numbers are getting out of hand. The social capital lost from all these felonious deaths of officers and the families left behind, its just too much. We need to think of something proactive, honest and creataive in ordedr to deal with this. The media could be used in a positive manner for this endeavor, with dissemination being the key word.

Morning Eagle @ 7/25/2011 11:40 PM

This is a very timely article. ".... the erosion of warrior ethos" is an excellent summation of the societal aspect of dealing successfully with this deeply troubling willingness to engage officers with deadly force. Society in general has gone soft and “politically correct.” That fact is being reflected in our courts, prosecutions, juries, and parole boards to the point that many people believe criminals are given more rights and consideration than their victims.

I have the utmost faith in LTC Grossman's well-researched opinions and conclusions and Mr. Webb's thoughts as quoted in the article also make some very valid points. Resolution or mitigation of this disturbing and apparently growing trend or mind-set among today's youth especially, that lawful authority can be violently resisted with little fear of the consequences will require significant changes in the head-in-the-sand denial in the upper echelon policy makers of law enforcement about what is really happening. Far too many of them have either never worked the streets or have forgotten all they ever learned about what their people are dealing with every day and have joined the ranks of the politically correct cowards that are willing to knuckle under to every accusation, or possible accusation, of profiling or discrimination based on anything or nothing but hot air. When their officers have done the right thing under the circumstances existing at the moment, supervisors and administrators all the way up the chain of command must stand solidly behind the officer(s) instead of too often throwing them to the wolves in the media and anti-police pressure groups, and sadly that sometimes includes publicity hunting prosecutors that want to appear unbiased and tough by filing charges against police officers.

Tom @ 7/26/2011 8:03 AM

The criminals don't fear repercussions and why would they. Our system
has become soft on criminals and especially on cop killers. The punishment should be timely with the offense.

Matthew Simpson @ 7/27/2011 6:53 PM

It is not the number of deaths that we should be measuring to determine increase, but the number of Assault 1st incidents Officers are involved in. We become fixated on outcome numbers, when the reality is that every incident could result in death.

This is true when measuring murder rates. sure you may have 200 from last year, but how many attempts where there. In this number you can judge the severity of the issue.

In the past two years in the Saint Louis Region these types of incidents have risen dramaticly, and subsequently so have the shooting of Police Officers and our deaths.

Bob @ 8/13/2011 3:34 PM

I just heard LTC Dave Grossman talk at TREXPO yesterday. Very impressive. He makes persuasive arguments backed by a lot of data. We have raised a generation of animals and taught them both to kill and that the repercussions will be minimal. That's a very dangerous combination.

Certainly the loss of perspective by a LE leadership obsessed with job security combined with a loss of warrior ethos in many rank-and-file doesn't help the situation. While taking a life must always be a last resort, paladins must be prepared to take that step when necessary and only when necessary.

On the flip side, it's cases like Johannes Mehserle shooting an unarmed suspect in the back while they lay on the ground, Daniel Harless in Canton, Ohio who threatened a legal concealed carrier with execution, and a number of similar incidents that provide fodder to the haters. LE must openly and transparently set a high bar for conduct and rigorously police its own if it hopes to regain ground in the public eye. Granted that the liberal media amplifies the perceptions and hate, but it's counter-productive to provide them free material.

To that end, I agree with LTC Grossman that LE must reach out to and leverage armed citizens, especially concealed carriers. CCW holders have had FBI background checks at a minimum and statistics show that they obey the law at a much higher rate than even LEOs.

The overall goal must be to make civilized society a hard target for both psychopathic killers and terrorists. These two groups can and must be deterred and the threats eliminated when they materialize. If you've ever traveled around Israel, you know what's possible in hardening a free society. LE can't do it alone.

Chuck Helmke @ 8/25/2011 12:42 PM

Regarding "Going Hands on"
When your Taser fails, when your mace fails, when your baton fails,
and finally, when your gun fails, THEN go "Hands On"

darell chavez @ 8/25/2011 2:03 PM

Some of these comments hit the nail on the head. Try policing here in New Mexico where assaulting a police officer is a misdemeanor and usually gets pleaded down to disorderly conduct and then you get sued for excessive force afterward. That's only the tip of the iceberg since most crimes here are pled down or dismissed altogether, creating case law that gives the criminals more rights than law abiding citizens. If you truly have a passion for law enforcement and don't mind doing it with one hand tied behind your back this is the place to be since throughout your career you'll have accumulated enough knowledge about the law to be a lawyer by necessity.

LT @ 8/25/2011 5:35 PM

Canadian Law is based on restorative justice. However restorative justice is good on a case by case level. I completely agree with upper management being out of touch with the street. The Commanding officer of F-Division changed the rules making everyone who was not front line, go to a different detachment through out the province to work shifts on the street. The people who have been in plain clothes sections for the last 20 years were given a first hand idea of how much things have changed. Policing is a parishable skill, you get acustomed to your area in which you work. I don't know the first thing about forensics however as a front line member I know how to chase suspects, effect arrests and calm people at a high stress complaints. I believe that this should be standard practice through all police forces. The commanding officer of the division was working with a 3 year member responding to domestic assault complaints in the middle of the night in -30 C weather. That not only show's excellent leadership but he saw first hand what the members are working with...

icephoenix51 @ 8/26/2011 4:37 PM

I would like to know where Ridgeway gets his data. Cab drivers and bartenders face the same threats as law enforcement officers with a higher rate of fatality? I'm not sure he knows the difference between apples and oranges. The deaths in other professions such as fishing, crabbing, logging, construction, etc. come from accidents; not from being murdered as the law enforcement officers are. Calling law enforcement a safe profession simply because the total number of deaths are lower is a tell-tale sign that society doesn't want to look at the officer's deaths as murder. I also agree with a previous post that all violent data towards officers be considered when trying to show the enormity of this problem of violence toward the peace keepers. LTC Grossman has researched and produced qualitative data for his stance and I thank him for not being politically correct. Maybe others will follow his lead, Eric Holder can you take a hint. Stay safe my brothers and sisters.

Richard Allen @ 8/27/2011 3:18 PM

Sadly, the few bad cops out there ruin it for all the good cops. Being a minority, I was always told I would be targeted. I never believed it till it happened to me...twice. Was arrested by a cop because he found a kitchen knife in a box in my car after I told him that I was moving to a new apartment. I also told him what was in the boxes, but he still saw fit to go through every box just so he could find something to arrest me for. The charges were later dropped, but not after I had to spit out $500 for a lawyer to fight it. It's crap like that that makes people hate cops. I've met one really great cop that helped me when I was in Round Rock, TX. He was truly what I feel a great cop should be. Caring, understanding, but still tough. Where ever he is now, I hope he is doing well. To all the good cops out there, I wish you nothing but safe days and nights. To all the bad cops, just quit so we can have "real" good guys watching out streets.

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