Dear Radley Balko: Being a Blogger is Hard

January 6, 2015

“Once again: police work is not getting more dangerous.”

That’s the title of an article by blogger Radley Balko of the Washington Post from back in Oct. 2014. It’s making the rounds again. I’m assuming based on his past articles that he isn’t a big fan of law enforcement. He cites stats, many put out by the ACLU and other organizations not particularly fond of the profession of Blue, and he’s a smooth talker.

That being the case, statistically, he’s right. Generally, law enforcement is safer than it was 20 years ago. Fewer deaths, fewer pure attacks, and fewer assaults—or so the stats say.

People like Balko use stats certainly when it suits their perspective, biases and agendas. Just as I do.

Yep, I admit it. I have predispositions. I’m a cop. Though technically retired, I’m still a cop. I’m biased towards the profession, especially since we have so few champions in the legacy wing of the media. And I’m sensitive to people who never in a million years would dare to experience what we experience on a daily basis. Yet they unashamedly use stats to paint a picture they want painted about who we are and what we face.

“Only 118 dead from on-duty incidents in 2014! So what are you cops whining about? It was over 160 a few years ago,” they say. “So relax. Take off the armor, retire the SWAT teams, and quit thinking that people are criminals. It’s safe out there.”

Many report that those working on ships, garbage haulers, people in the fishing industry, loggers, pilots, roofers, iron workers, farmers and truckers all have higher injury rates than cops. And that may be absolutely true.

But—and this is a big but—none of those professions incur injury and death through the murderous intent of other human beings or while in the act of saving the lives of complete strangers.

Loggers don’t die because somebody purposely dropped a tree on them. Truckers don’t get injured or killed because they are hightailing it to a violent domestic call. Roofers don’t have people shooting at them while nailing shingles.

While some of these professions may on rare occasions encounter angry customers, they almost never wade purposely into encounters with violent and deranged psychopaths. If they inadvertently do find themselves in such a position, they call us.

Those who sit comfortably and safely behind desks reading criminology surveys and each other’s blogs use stats to skew reality and bolster their beliefs. Mr. Balko: I’m talking about YOU.

These people waxing philosophical about the ills of law enforcement have never—and would never—put themselves in a position where they had to look into the face of pure evil. Many don’t even believe that such evil exists.

Can you imagine any of these highly educated opinion writers trying to calm down a sociopathic, armed meth-head in an alley at 2:00 a.m.?

How long would it take them to decide to use force, and what kind of force, and how much force on an unarmed intoxicated felon who outweighs them by 50 lbs.?

And how would they react on a domestic where both sides of the dispute hate them immediately, call them vile names they didn’t know existed, demand action, threaten their lives and scream their desire for them to drop dead?

I’m not overly sensitive to criticism. I’m just fed up with the way the criticism is delivered and the hypocrisy of those delivering it. This is not reality-based criticism. These same people using FBI and NIJ stats to argue that cops aren’t under attack are the same ones who scream that the FBI stats are unreliable when it comes to officers using force against citizens.

Some are saying that we only lost 118 officers in the line of duty in 2014. ONLY?!

Tell that to the countless who have been scarred permanently by those 118 losses—the wives, husbands, children, colleagues, and so on.

And what If it spikes up again in 2015? Then what? Oh, they have a word for that too: anomaly.

For us the dangers are ever-present and most of it is out of our control because of the human factor that doesn’t exist in those other professions. People attack cops. Sometimes they do so out of nowhere, in the heat of the moment. Sometimes they plan out our murders for years. These people are unfettered by rules of engagement or even human decency.

So we’re on defense all the time in this line of work. We must be nice, no matter how rude or threatening others are to us. We need to use necessary and reasonable force, though no one can actually explain what that is definitively. At the highest levels of stress, we need to detect the indescribable and understand countless variables in a split second, knowing we will have to justify our actions to people who weren’t there but have the benefit of reviewing our behavior with the vision of hindsight.

Mr. Balko and others point to a less violent society as a reason for fewer attacks on cops. In other words: Give the credit to the general public for being more reasonable and less prone to unwarranted ferocity. This argument is laughable. While the percentage points may be down, the tracking of crimes is incredibly unreliable as each town, city, county and state categorizes crimes in different ways while using different terminologies.

There are a variety of complex reasons attacks on cops are down slightly and deaths significantly. I’ll address these in another article. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot going on here that Balko either ignores or would rather not consider.

We don’t ask for praise or parades. But if you’re going to criticize, get a clue before you do it. Go through some dynamic training. Experience the reality of what we actually do. Learn how we’ve improved as a profession—in terms of tactics, equipment, and training. Criticize when we deserve it. But how about writing something every time we do things right? Try it. You’ll get a cramp.

Bottom line: Talking about the 700,000 men and women of this profession as though we are nameless, faceless, unfeeling Neanderthals is as unbecoming and as it is disingenuous.


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