As anyone who has been following the news is already aware, this hasn't been a particularly good fortnight for America's law enforcers. Whether they're tasering Arab college kids, firing off 50 rounds at an unarmed wedding party, or popping a cap in an 88 year old woman in her home, there has been plenty of reason to discuss issues of police and the use of force recently.

Unfortunately, such discussions inevitably end up being reduced to "Look, police officers have a stressful, dangerous job. They have to make snap decisions and it's too easy to second-guess." This is, of course, the conclusion of the argument for those who defend the police in these instances. There's a certain logic to that, I admit. It really is a dangerous, stressful job. No one can dispute that. The logical leap I fail to make, however, is that stressful employment = carte blanche for inappropriate conduct.

While being a cop is certainly hazardous, it's not even close to the most dangerous job in the United States. Not even in the top 10, as a matter of fact. According to the Department of Labor, the 10 jobs in which one is most likely to be killed in the line of work are (fatalities per 100,000 hrs. of work) working on a fishing boat or in the timber industry. Regarding injuries (non-fatal), law enforcement isn't even in the top 25 – being a steel worker seems to offer the highest odds of injury.

Furthermore, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund there are an average of about 160 law enforcement deaths annually. Is 160 dead police officers a lot? Yes, it is. That's a lot of violence. 160 deaths means that there are approximately 18.2 fatalities per 100,000 hours worked. It indicates that being a law enforcement officer is indeed a dangerous job.

But there are a lot of dangerous jobs. "Police officer" is neither the only one nor the most dangerous. Therefore it makes no sense (here in the reality-based community) that police officers' conduct, when inappropriate, can be justified by the hazards of the job. If a lumberjack or electrician beats the crap out of an unarmed person in the street, does anyone say "Well, they have a very dangerous and stressful job" as an excuse? Well why the hell not? Their jobs are statistically about 500% more dangerous than being a cop.

This isn't really about whether or not police were or were not guilty of using excessive force in any of the recent cases. That's for the courts to decide (*snicker*). The officers involved have already faced discipline – paid administrative leave (the rest of us call that "vacation"). I'm sure the legal system will investigate itself and reassuringly inform us that it found no evidence of wrongdoing. While there's nothing that we can do as individuals to change the attitudes and behavior of people in law enforcement, I think we're all more than capable of contributing to the fight against piss-poor logic and lame excuses.

Be Sociable, Share!


  • I agree we should fight faulty logic and reasoning where ever they rear their ugly heads. However, your analysis fails to take into account that trees and fish and waves don't act with any sort of malice toward the people they kill in the line of work every year.

    On the other hand, criminals who kill cops do in fact make a decision to cause harm to the police officers they injure or kill.

  • Did you note the fact that more than half of the police killed in the line of duty were killed in auto and motorcycle accidents?

    Was the road acting maliciously toward them?

  • I did take that into consideration. However, I don't assume that officer deaths in motorcycle and auto accidents or when they are struck by an automobile are the fault of the road.

    For all we know when looking at the stats from your link it's just as safe to assume some of those officers were killed during pursuits or were intentionally hit by another driver.

  • Well there are still 58 cops being shot a year (and .2 posioned a year!). I think the idea of "dangerous/stressful" => "violent overreaction" for cops, but not say steelworkers, is that there is a negative correlation line between the two. The more likely a cop violently (over-)reacts in a dangerous situation, the less dangerous the situation is for him. If he shoots first, he won't be shot. And in the opposite direction, if a cop just had a whiffle ball bat, and a mandate to never use it, the number of dead cops would certainly increase.

    For a steelworker to start tasering people at wedding parties will have no net effect on his safety at the plant.

    For what it is worth, I don't think the slope is that high, and we could get cops to react a little less crazy and not have to bury many more cops.

  • Well, I think we're in some agreement that there's a happy medium between having dead cops everywhere and having unarmed people shot at 50 times.

  • Neat – for all the tables about cops dying, it's almost impossible to find good data on homicides committed by the police – there is an annual "justifiable homicides by weapon, law enforcement" (required by congress), but it is not by state, and doesn't include non-justifiable homicides.

  • Ed, to continue a dialogue we started earlier, 'gin' is not a good failsafe in the war against spam. Make your users type 'swahilian pig virus,' or something equivalently ridiculous. It will catch the spam bots off-guard.

    Oh, by the way, a ton of people were shot this week, and I am equally as shocked as you are. May we mourn and speculate.

    …Michael Bloomberg sure seems intent on it, anyway…

  • Billy Bob Joe says:

    Ed, minor point: the kid who got tasered was Iranian, not Arab. I know we all look the same to most white folk, but seriously, there are lots of historical, cultural, sociological, and linguistic differences between Arabs, Iranians, Afghanis, etc…

    Regarding the overall topic though: I for one am tired of hearing the "they have to make snap decisions" argument… It's not a valid excuse for poor judgement in any other field or profession. But the general public seems to accept it if there's a government-issued uniform involved….

  • Here's my barely-related take on the situation.

    Police officer is one of the many professions that would probably benefit from some sort of wage increase. If police officers were paid more, more people would want to be police officers, and it would be easier to have a force full of people who are as unlikely to pull this kind of shit as possible.

    As it stands, the only reasons that somebody would really want to be a police officer is because they have a strong sense of civic duty (at least nominally) or they have some psychological interest in the power that comes with being a cop. It'd be easier to hire less of the second type, if there was a bigger pool to draw from. Which would happen if police made more money.

  • Billy Bob Joe says:

    Well, the largest ethnic groups in Iran are the Indo-European and Turkic groups… The original group of Indo-European Aryans ("Iran" roughly means "land of the Aryans") settled the main plateau of Iran from the steppes of Asia (not from the Arabian Peninsula). The Indo-European group includes the Persians, which of course established the original empire… The majority of the population is still Persian, as is the language. Arabic and Persian (aka Parsi or Farsi) are completely unrelated languges, one being Semitic, the other being closer in structure to languages spoken in Europe). The Indo-European group also includes the Kurds and several smaller tribes…

    The Turkic groups are concentrated in the North, mostly in the Northwest (near Turkey… go figure!) but also stretch past the Caspian to the Northeast. In the Northeast you also find people with very Asian facial features… a reminder of the Mongol invasions.

    As for Arabs, as expected, they are concentrated in the South, in the Persian Gulf region. They are mostly concentrated in the Southwest province which borders Iraq. This is the region (oil-rich) where Saddam Hussein actually invaded Iran back in the 80's, thinking that the Arab population there would not put up a fight… He of course thought wrong.

    Iranian history, language, and culture is very different from its Arab neighbors to the South and West, and even though Iranians and Arabs are both predominantly Muslim, Iranians are Shia while the majority of Arabs are Sunni (the largest group of Shia outside of Iran are found in Southern Iraq).

    Iranians and Arabs unfortunately haven't had a smooth historical relationship (many nationalist and not-so-religious Iranians are still sore about the Arab invasions which replaced Zoroastianism with Islam and injected Arabic words into the language). As a generalization, Iranians tend to be proud of their ancient history (which is completely separate from the Arabs), and this is just one of the reasons why Iranians are usually sensitive to being lumped together with Arabs…

    As for me, I concentrate less on the pride aspect of things… I mostly care about this lumping because of the way it dumbs down a very complex situation… It makes it really easy to win over public opinion about oh, I don't know… WAR… when you can fuzzy up the situation "over there" and lump everybody into one big group. Hell, BBC has even stopped using the term "Persian Gulf" and instead uses "The Gulf" when they can't get away with using "Arabian Gulf".

    BTW, for a giggle, go here: ( this will show you how sensitive Iranians are on the Persian/Arab issue!

    Anyway, I can go on and on, but I'll save you the agony of reading my rant!

    -h (up to now, Billy Bob Joe)

  • As a recent transplant to ny, I must say that it would appear that if the white cop that squeezed off 31 of the 50 rounds (easily enough to have had to reload and empty another clip) doesn't get made an example of there ought to be a bit of a stink. And by bit of a stink, I'm thinking riots, as all indications point to obviousl excessive force and negligent homicide. I keep waiting for someone on the radidio to question what the situation would be if 5 plainclothes po-po murdered a trust-fund baby from Millionaires row coming out of Scores on the upper east side? Would people be hemming and hawing, trying to justify the senseless death of an unarmed man, or would that same trigger-happy officer's ass be so far in a sling you wouldn't have to turn around until you got to Tibet? My guess is the latter… God bless America.

Comments are closed.