I’ve been studying stats for quite a while. No dataset is perfect, and even raw data can reflect bias in the way that it was collected, so I try to diversify my sources. There’s the FBI, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the CDC (Center for Disease Control), for example. Among popular media there are stats to be found too: from the Huffington Post to the Washington Post and the Guardian.
The media love stats—especially when they comport to well-worn narratives. Pundits and politicians cite numbers out of thin air to bolster their arguments. People then repeat the nonsense like gospel.
We all have bias. Me too, and I try to see past it if I can. I do this by beginning with statistics that show police in the most negative light. I take them as a premise and then see if there’s validity among other datasets to form both an opinion and realistic picture of what’s going on when it comes to police officers and using force.
Today I’m addressing these stats as fairly as I can make them.
A Few Rough Numbers
Depending on who you read or listen to we have between 700,000 and 800,000 police officers working the streets of this country from around 18,000 different law enforcement agencies.
How many face-to-face verbally engaged contacts do these officers have with people every year? The most I’ve ever seen was an FBI stat in 2012 that said we have approximately 40 million face-to-face contacts. That’s a lot!
Unfortunately it is also very wrong. Here’s why.
If you use a compromise average of 750,000 as the number of police officers in the country, then 40 million means, on average, cops have contact with a grand total of 53.3 people every year.
Figuring we work, as an average of 225 eight-hour shifts a year that would mean we have contact with people about every four to five days or: 0.237 people every day. Not even half a person contacted per day!
Doesn’t add up.
This is just me estimating based on 30 years’ experience as a cop but, I believe at the very minimum we have face-to-face verbal exchange interactions with at least 15 people a day (and that is probably a low estimate).
So, take that 15 multiplied by 225 work days per year and that equals 3,375 people per year. Multiply that by the 750,000 officers and that means that cops encounter—face-to-face—2,531,250,000 people every year.
That’s impossible right? I mean we only have 320 million living in the U.S. so how can we encounter over 2.5 billion?
Easy: We see the same people over and over and over and over again.
On average, by the way, we arrest over 30,000 human beings every single day! That’s over 10 million! Most, granted, are for small arrests such as traffic violations, loitering, petty theft and disturbances. But it also includes arrests for violent crimes such as robbery, rape, aggravated assault and murder.
If you examine the stats of officers being feloniously killed you will find that most were not involved in the investigation of violent crimes, but rather petty nonsensical calls from noise disturbances to checking on suspicious people.
But back to the stats and the ‘epidemic of police violence’ that is being pushed shamelessly by political candidates, media, and activists.
If we do indeed have contact with people 2,531,250,000 times every year and we shoot, on the outside—shoot, not kill—3,000 of them, that means we shoot people .0000011851% of the time we encounter the humans we, supposedly, epidemically abuse.
If you round that number down? It didn’t even happen.
And remember, of those 3,000, the very vast majority of them did something feloniously or dangerously that forced the officer to shoot!
Epidemic? No way. Do bad shoots happen? They do: incredibly rarely, and then they are addressed in court.
The Medical World
Let’s look at the medical profession, for comparison. Before I do, let me just say that I love those in medicine. They are dedicated, professional human beings who care deeply for their patients. In particular, my daughter Kara a remarkable pediatric nurse with a heart the size of Alaska and my cousin Terry who is a doctor and is married to a dedicated nurse, Denise. These are tremendous people and very much representative of those in their profession.
According to a very recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States.
From an article by NPR: “Based on an analysis of prior research, the Johns Hopkins study estimates that more than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors. On the CDC’s official list, that would rank just behind heart disease and cancer …”
The article continues: “Shortcomings in tracking vital statistics may hinder research and keep the problem out of the public eye.”
Where’s the screaming? The condemning? The vile vitriol and the hate Nowhere! Why?
Again: I’m not beating up a noble profession. I’m just pointing out that anytime you have human beings interacting in critical moments with the sick, disturbed, and/or violent, there are risks. People will die because there are no absolute answers to effectively dealing with the multitude of human variables.
We try valiantly, but mistakes happen when the stakes are high.
We Do Make Mistakes
I’m not trying to be glib. But I am convinced there’s no epidemic of violent, racist cops in this country. Not even a little bit.
Cops make mistakes and we have to own up and learn from them. But fatal mistakes are statistically few and far between. Yes, one is too many. But condemning an entire profession and publicly using terminology such as “epidemic of police violence,” “rampant police brutality,” “systemic racism,” and so on without factual proof to back these assertions up is at best counterproductive.
It’s also deadly. The public is being lied to by its leaders and media to believe a deadly lie. Their mistrust and anger are affecting how police do their jobs. These lies will almost certainly lead to death and destruction—with no repercussions for the pundits and pols who trade in them.
The President said the other day: “Now in a movement like Black Lives Matter there’s always going to be some folks that say things that are stupid or imprudent or overgeneralized or harsh. And I don’t think that you can hold well-meaning activists who are doing the right thing and peacefully protesting responsible for everything that is uttered at a protest site.”
Let us take his advice when we consider the law enforcement profession.
We as a nation need to fix the real problems. But that will only work if we can determine what the problem is. To make things up or exaggerate the level of the problem will lock us in a forever-holding pattern. Me, I’m sick of it.