Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Police have dangerous jobs but some occupations more fatal

The latest federal Census of Fatal Occupational Industries came out last month, and I was interested to learn that the fatality rate among police officers and sheriff's deputies declined more than 20% in 2008 from 2007 - from 19.8 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent jobs down to a rate of 15.6 per 100,000 last year (the same as in 2006). That's welcome news.

According to these data, law enforcement officers rank at the top of the fatality list among American service workers, with an on-the-job death rate more than five times as high as the average municipal employee (who in 2008 suffered a fatality rate of 2.7 per 100,000).

So in a real sense it's true, as the saying goes, that police officers "put their lives on the line every day." But to place that statement into context, it's worth mentioning there are many common jobs more hazardous than being a police officer, including some among municipal employees. For comparison, here are some 2008 on-the job fatality rates (expressed in number of deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent jobs) for various occupations:
Fishermen: 128.9
Logging workers: 116.7
Aircraft pilots: 72.4
Iron and steelworkers: 46.4
Farmers and ranchers: 39.5
Garbage collectors: 36.8
Roofers: 34.4
Electrical power line installation/repair: 29.8
Truck drivers: 22.8
Oil and gas extraction: 21.9
Taxi drivers: 19.3
Drinking establishment employees: 17.0
Construction workers: 16.0
Police and deputies: 15.6
Grounds maintenance: 11.9
Welders: 10.5
Electricians: 8.3
Gas station attendant: 7.5
Firefighters: 6.9
Auto mechanics: 5.0
Newspaper publishers: 4.8
Carpenters: 4.7
Janitors: 3.1
Retail sales: 1.5
Just as taxi drivers and truckers have high fatality rates, a lot of the danger from being a police officer comes from spending so much time on the roadway. About 2/3 of police officer deaths in Texas involve traffic accidents.

MORE: Here's a lot more detail from the FBI on the specifics of 2008 police officer fatalities.


Anonymous said...

Interestingly, with the possible exception of drinking establishment employees and gas station attendants (convenience store clerks?) law enforcement officer is the only occupation on the list where one takes a job knowing there is the very real potential to have a direct and potentially violent confrontation with someone who might genuinely desire to do them harm. The death rates associated with all of those other occupations is typically associated with accidental death. I think it's the fact that police officers are sometimes called upon put their lives between the evildoers and the rest of law abiding society that causes them to typically be held in very high esteem by most citizens.

Anonymous said...

I think people overestimate how risky a cop's job really is. I would have never guessed that farmers and garbage collectors jobs are twice as dangerous.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if fishermen, loggers and construction folks say to themselves and their peers: "The first thing is, I'm going to make sure I go home tonight, no matter what!"

Anonymous said...

I know construction workers do, depending on the type of work and the type of job. Especially if they are working on non-union jobs. Which I understand is the norm in Texas.

I was watching some today, looking down from the 46th floor onto another highrise being built. They had erected two flags and a Christmas tree on the top (not sure why). One was suspended in a harness down the side.

I don't know who was in charge of checking the equipment but you better believe he checked it out too.

One was seriously hurt a couple of months ago when an iron beam fell through an elevator shaft where he was standing and hit him. I never heard the what happened to him. Apparently the hardhat didn't help much.

Anonymous said...

I'm just a bit curious to know how it is that newspaper publishers come to be fatally wounded in the line of duty. Now that is surprising news to me. Care to comment Grits?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"how it is that newspaper publishers come to be fatally wounded in the line of duty."

Sorry, I have no idea. I included the stat because it also struck me as startling and unusual. But the federal report contains no detail on the specifics.

To 6:34, I think people like fishermen with jobs that are 8 times more dangerous than policing DEFINITELY think that way. It's just there's not a zillion TV shows encouraging the public to overestimate the risks they face, so the rest of us don't routinely consider how dangerous their jobs are.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should get rid of police for a while and see how much freedom we really have.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

How does calculating relative employment risks lead you to suggest "Maybe we should get rid of police"? That doesn't make much sense.

Mark # 1 said...

The not-so-ironic part about your "Anonymous" authoritarian flunky stalker is that he doesn't even make any relevant points. Hmmm, I wonder if there's some kind of connection?

Anonymous said...

Grits, is it true that the state school - West Texas State School, will officially close the last of december 2009? Some employees have been given that word. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Thank you for putting that into context. We seem to lose context in today's sound-bite driven media.

Anonymous said...

Grits, how do fishermen and construction worker deaths compare to deaths in the armed forces? I would almost be willing to bet that the death rate among fishermen and construction workers is higher even with the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Do you think the public is also "enouraged to overestimate the risks they face?"

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:27, soldiers in Iraq and Afganistan die at much higher rates, though comparable data to the CFOI isn't available. We've lost more than 5,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. By contrast, nationwide 133 law enforcement officers died in 2008, the majority in auto accidents. The numbers aren't remotely comparable. Being a soldier in a combat zone is a LOT more dangerous.

A said...


Even if you take the total number of fatalities (5,130) in Irag and Afghanistan and divide it by the number of years we've been involved in these wars, i just said 8 for simplicity, you get an average of 641 deaths per year. Which puts it into the same perspective as the police officers.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Rory, for starters 641 > 133.

More importantly, the two numbers are apples and oranges. We don't have a comparable denominator to the CFOI rate data. There are many, MANY more police officers in the United States than there are soldiers in those two theaters, so the soldiers are most certainly dying at much higher rates.

Anonymous said...

I've done a bit of quick WAGing to arrive at a fatality rate for soldiers, at least in Iraq in 2008.
Bear in mind none of these numbers should be taken as gospel, but I found a count of 130000 US troops for 2008 in Iraq, and a total of 316 casualties.
Please forgive the math but I think that would work out to something in the 230ish per 100k range.
The highest fatality rates in the linked data for 2008 were 128 for commercial fishing and 115 for loggers.
And, with an average of 600+ deaths per year, past years rates could easily be twice as high.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks 10:42, that seems about right. Using the 316 and 130,000 numbers you cited, I get a 2008 on-the-job fatality rate in Iraq last year of 243 per 100,000.

Given that ballpark estimate, to anon 8:27 from yesterday the answer is "no", based on these data I don't think the public is "encouraged to overestimate the risks" taken by soldiers. But clearly their jobs are MUCH riskier than police, or even fishermen.

Anonymous said...

"I think it's the fact that police officers are sometimes called upon put their lives between the evildoers and the rest of law abiding society that causes them to typically be held in very high esteem by most citizens."

Considering the conduct of law enforcement in this country today, I would be hard pressed to agree with this statement. The more I read Balko's The Agitator, the more I realize what scum cops really. I hold then to NO esteem. My father was a cop and he was a coward and bully. So were a large proportion of the officers he served with.

Todd said...

"I think people overestimate how risky a cop's job really is."

Oh yeah? Strap on a gun and run lights and sirens to a robbery in progress call and let me know what you think then.

The problem here is that Grits is using deaths as a measure. Police have a much more dangerous job. Deaths are just lower because American police have (in general) very good training and equipment to handle those dangerous calls.

Dont try to minimize the job that police do simply because they are good at it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Todd, don't be so defensive. I fully acknowledged police officers jobs are dangerous. But for every incident like you describe there are also countless hours spent performing far less dangerous tasks.

That said, maybe we need to define our terms. When I say "dangerous" I mean police run a much greater risk of being killed than other workers - more than five times the rate of the average municipal employee. I can't tell how you're defining the term "dangerous." You seem to have disassociated the term from risk of harm. What metric would you use to measure "dangerousness" besides risk of death?

It doesn't demean you or your job to acknowledge that other workers take serious risks on their jobs as well, and perhaps are even in more danger from a statistical perspective than police officers.

Anonymous said...

12:48, please go spew your hate somewhere else. Or, at a minimum, please go get some counseling.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I think that the amount of wrong police do is sorely misrepresented on this website.

I am sorry, but lets get real, of course there are police officers that are involved in gross misconduct. Otherwise we would not need internal affairs or civil rights investigations.

However, I must say that if you ask most Americans if they were afraid of being raped or summarily beaten or executed by the police when they are pulled over, most people would tell you that is ridiculous. In Mexico or in many other countries you would not have the same trust.

Police here in the United States are held to a very high standard, some of which have unfortunately failed us.

But if I were to put every police officer in the United States that did something wrong, I would of course have a subject for several blogs (because the US is such a large country, and Texas is a large state we are bound to have a few morons with badges).

However, if I put every police officer that went above and beyond the call of duty to help someone or that took an extreme risk for the betterment of their community you could NEVER find enough blog space.

I'm not saying that you should never report on police misconduct, but what I am saying is that you should also comment if they get it right. I know that you cannot often admit it, but the police often do get it right.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, 7:27! The entire premise of Grit's post, whether he's willing to admit it or not, is that the police are entitled to less respect because their job is not as statistically "dangerous" as fishermen. That's such a bogus comparison I fail to understand why he makes it if not to take a cheap shot at all the honest and dedicated officers who serve us. This post just says it all about Grits' complete lack of objectivity on criminal justice issues. Of course it's his blog so I guess it's his prerogotive to claim to be "objective" when he's really not. But it's the reader's prerogative to call BS when his bias is obvious as it is in this instance! Bottom line, if someone's breaking into your house at 3:00 a.m., who are you going to call? A commercial fisherman? How about a little credit for the sacrifices these fine men and women make for all of us!

And for 12:48, please do consider couseling.

Anonymous said...

No doubt the good outweighs the bad, but when they are bad, they are very, very bad. Go read this link: http://www.kxxv.com/Global/story.asp?S=11133663

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:27 writes "I think that the amount of wrong police do is sorely misrepresented on this website"

But this post has no mention of any wrong done by police at all, and I actually focus very little on individual cases of police officer misconduct on this site. I focus a lot more on prosecutors, judges and state agencies. Perhaps you're a little hypersensitive?

7:52, I actually said the opposite of "the police are entitled to less respect."

And it's true I won't call a fisherman if someone is breaking into my house, just as I wouldn't call the police if I'm looking for fresh tuna. But I don't see what that has to do with how relatively dangerous is each job.

This defensive reaction by some in a way is kind of creepy. Why would y'all think it demeans peace officers if fewer of them are killed on the job than other people with dangerous occupations? Do you really want more police officers dead just because you (twistedly) thimk it would earn them more "respect"? That's just bizarre.

Old Number 7 said...

I used to drive cab for a living. That job has the highest rate of being murdered at work. Cabbies put their lives on the line more than cops ever do, and they are alone and unarmed, with zero benefits. It irks me that whenever a cop gets killed on the job, even if from reckless driving, our taxes pay for the hooplah (including no-work overtime) for 'a fallen hero'.

In California, cabbies are required by law to go wherever requested. Refusal leaves them open to criminal prosecution. Cops can refuse any request. They cannot be forced to go anywhere they don't feel safe. They can kill anyone they claim made them fear for their safety.

Anonymous said...

As the wife of a deputy...I'm going to have to say that you are wrong 7:28.
While I respect that a cab driver's job is dangerous, your comment about refusal is way off base. They are not allowed to refuse to go to a call. Not only do they have to go, but they have to go in a timely manner! And I agree with the poster that said an officers job is more dangerous than perceived by the list, the fatality rates are just lower because of the training and ability to be armed.

Anonymous said...

As I read this information being provided, it appears this is a statistical analysis of the number of deaths compared to the number of people in that particular field. These statistics don’t answer the question of why? In reference to police, could it be that they are better trained and more cautious than the fishermen? I don’t know, but certainly in watching programs such as the Deadliest Catch, it appears much of what a greenhorn learns in on the job. And the dangers of the ocean can’t be overlooked. Those are some very dangerous environments they have to work in.
But I think we can see one of the most inherent risks to police officers and that is the motoring public. And a traffic officer on a traffic stop will have up to 100 cars go zipping by the traffic stop. That was 100 potential crashes. There is a strong likelihood that several intoxicated drivers passed by as well. The fact that the crash doesn’t occur does not make the potential go away nor lesson the chance of the fatal crash. That is not represented in the statistical analysis. An officer responding to a domestic in progress has to face any number of dangers. From the dangers of driving fast to respond quickly, the dangers of the other driver’s on the road between where the officer is coming from to where the domestic is occurring, the unknown dangers upon arrival at the domestic, such as an ambush by the abusing party (who doesn’t want the police there in the first place), the dangers of any number of weapons in the house, to the danger that the victim suddenly twists around to protect her abusing husband (it happens). The fact that several units safely get to the domestic, handle the situation, and leave without getting killed or injured is not reflected in the statistical analysis.
These stats don’t really mean much in determining what line of work is most dangerous. I would hope that we continue to train police officers and improve tactics to the point that the number of deaths of officer drops even more, but it doesn’t take away the dangers of the job.