This imbalance in the action-reaction equation simultaneously empowers society's non-conformists while inhibiting cops from taking appropriate action when needed. Webb suggests that law enforcement administrators are taking the wrong approach to solve this problem.
"What is happening is that the administrators that are overseeing academy policies and practices are themselves out of touch with the realities of the day-to-day job," Webb argues. "It starts from the top down. Many administrators try to make the case that the job has changed when it really hasn't. It's as much political correctness causing these officers' deaths as it is society in general."
Law enforcement is constantly reacting to society's demands for change based on past events. In the aftermath of any high-profile incident, officers' actions are dissected and placed under a microscope for all to analyze. Even those with little or no expertise in the matter have their say in the media and other forums. Department administrators devote so much time and effort responding to these concerns that they lose sight of new threats that loom around the corner. As yesterday's policy changes are implemented, officers are faced with every new challenge that today's suspects bring.
Webb says that while the academy curriculum 30 years ago was severely lacking, training today is not the issue. "The problem that we've been experiencing with officer survival during the last couple of years is more cultural than it is anything else," he explains. "Certainly, law enforcement has become increasingly sophisticated in its training of police officers in officer survival and driving tactics. Training is better now than it has ever been before. Certainly, it's probably why the number of officers killed in traffic accidents has been reduced.
"At the same time our society has become sissified thanks to all manner of lawsuits. I hear from these younger officers who say that they do not get paid to go hands-on with suspects: 'I don't get paid to fight suspects.' I tell them, 'I hate to tell you this, but that's exactly what you get paid for. When someone yells fight or gun, we run toward it.' Their mentality, I believe, is a byproduct of not playing contact sports and an over-reliance on technology. This whole dumbing down of society when it comes to survival skills has taken its toll. Not to sound hard-hearted, but the one thing that we have to do as a profession is to critically analyze these officers' deaths and not just go to their funerals and say how nice they were. The reality is most of the time it comes down to a mental attitude that reflects the erosion of warrior ethos."
So, is law enforcement truly becoming a more dangerous profession? According to Ridgeway, that may not necessarily be the case.
"We've seen a fluctuation over the past decade in the number of felonious cop killings. A bigger point is that policing has become a safe profession. By that, I mean compared to other professions that are not seated at desks, not dealing in retail. Relative to other professions that are outside doing stuff—deep sea fishermen, construction workers, loggers—policing is among them a safe profession. Some, like bartenders and taxi cab workers, are subject to the same threats as those facing law enforcement with higher rates of fatality. I think there's a big success story in policing about how much attention has been paid to officer safety in mitigating both the felonious killing of police officers and traffic collisions."
Ridgeway prefers that the profession not flagellate itself by fixating on the negative and ignoring its successes. One can understand Ridgeway's hesitancy. Indeed, there is an inability to make a statistical correlation between the spikes in officer killings of the early 1970s and today.
The intervening decades have seen advancements in tactical protocol and logistical support, threat identification, and medical intervention. Ballistic-resistant vests—virtually unavailable in 1974—have saved more than 2,500 officers' lives. Historically, there has not been any data contrasting those incidents wherein suspects successfully killed cops and those incidents wherein suspects engaged officers with an intent to kill, but failed.
An argument could be made that such comparisons should be made available. But however formidable the tracking of such data would be, Grossman might still look at it askance. He cites the lack of reliable crime data currently in circulation as an example.
"We have been fudging the figures and cooking the books for so long, I don't think anyone knows how bad it really is," he notes. "The upshot is that the situation is much worse than it looks and we will inevitably pay the price for our decades of lies. The 'social contract'—the foundation for almost every society and government in history—is breaking down."
The effectiveness of law enforcement's contract with society is judged mainly by data collected by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Since 1929, law enforcement agencies across the United States have provided information about the number of types of offenses committed; the age, gender, and race of arrestees; weapons used in crimes; the number and types of sworn and civilian officers employed; and a host of other data. Open to interpretation by law enforcement administrators, municipal leaders, criminologists, sociologists, legislators, lobbyists, media, and watchdog groups—particularly in light of allegations of racial profiling—it stands to reason that there may be inconsistencies in the way data is reported by individual agencies.
Grossman warns that cops and administrators who willfully ignore the empirical evidence presented to them do so at their own jeopardy.
"We desperately need courageous, heroic law enforcement leaders who will throw down the BS flag and let people know how bad it really is," Grossman asserts. "The four dead people in Lakewood were a warning shot. It is the all-time record body count of cops, by a single perp, in a single incident, in American history.
"And it is just the beginning."
Editor's Note: In next month's conclusion, POLICE will examine ways that officers, administrators, and society as a whole can minimize the police body count and end the blood bath.