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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

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."

Cooked Books

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.

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Tags: Duty Deaths, Parolees, Assaults on Officers, Crime Trends, Duty Dangers


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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