Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Disputing the indisputable: Media exaggerate dangers to police

Reacting to release of video contradicting a Dallas police officer's official report that he gunned down a mentally ill man because he approached him and his partner with a “knife raised in an aggressive manner” - an account that turned out to be demonstrably false - a Dallas Morning News editorial on the topic opened with the following lede: "No one can seriously dispute the minute-to-minute danger of being a police officer in a pressurized urban environment like Dallas. Any cop would tell you that the moment you drop your guard could be your last."

Allow Grits to "seriously dispute" that common but misleading meme. "Any cop" may tell you that, and I'm sure several will show up in Grits' comment section to do so, but that doesn't make the statement any more truthful. Police have more dangerous jobs than, say, editorial writers, it's true, but there are many common jobs with much higher on-the-job death rates. According to the latest Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (pdf), for example, in 2012 police and sheriff's patrol officers died on the job at a rate of 14.9 per 100,000 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs). By contrast, the folks who pick up municipal garbage were 82% more likely to die on the job, dying at a rate of 27.1 per 100,000 FTEs. But when was the last time you read a newspaper editorial about garbage collectors opining that "the moment you drop your guard could be your last," or that they "put their lives on line every day," even though they do.

No doubt, police officers have more dangerous jobs than most of us. Much of that danger stems from spending so much time behind the wheel of a vehicle. Other transportation-based jobs have even higher on-the-job death rates. In 2012, "driver/sales workers and truck drivers" died at a rate of 22.1 per 100,000, or 48% higher than patrol officers. Taxi drivers and chauffers died on the job at a rate of 14.9 per 100,000, or exactly the same rate as police.

Certainly, it's inarguable that cops' jobs are more dangerous than average workers. In 2012, the on-the-job death rate for wage and salary workers overall was 2.7 per 100,000 FTEs; for self-employed workers the rate rose to 11.9. (Men were much more likely to die on the job than women; the rates were 5.2 and 0.6 per 100,000 FTEs, respectively.) But there are many common jobs where on-the-job death rates substantially outpaced that of patrol officers. Here are a few examples from the CFOI document linked above to provide more context. The figures represent on-the-job death rates per 100,000 FTEs in the industry:

Logging:                                                                 127.8
Fishers and related workers:                            117.0
Aircraft pilots:                                                      53.4
Extraction workers (natural resources):          46.9
Roofers:                                                                  40.5
Refuse and recyclable materials collectors:     27.1
Electrical power installers/repair:                    23.0
Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers:         22.1
Farmers/ranchers:                                               21.3
Construction workers:                                         17.4
Maintenance/repair workers (general):           15.0
Police and sheriff's patrol officers:         14.9
Taxi drivers and chauffeurs:                             14.9
Grounds maintenance:                                      13.9
Athletes, coaches and umpires:                       13.0
Drinking establishment employees:                13.0
Construction equipment operators:                 11.5
Painters:                                                                 7.5
Gas station attendants:                                       6.8
Plumbers:                                                              6.4
Security guards:                                                   5.8
Auto mechanics:                                                  5.0
Auto parts/tire store employees:                      4.6
Carpenters;                                                           4.5
All workers:                                                          3.2

In context, then, the Dallas Morning News is just wrong that "No one can seriously dispute the minute-to-minute danger of being a police officer," at least if we're defining "danger" in terms of the risk that any given day you go to work "could be your last." Their jobs are dangerous, no doubt, but nobody uses the same, over-the-top rhetoric to describe the risks faced by garbage collectors, roofers, or truck drivers.

Newspapers rely on sensationalist crime coverage to draw in readers so it's understandable why they'd want to play up the dangers of policing for dramatic effect. Fictional TV shows similarly overstate those risks for profit, though at least they don't pretend to be portraying reality. But it does a disservice to public-policy debates surrounding incidents like this latest Dallas shooting for the media to frame discussions in terms of the grave risks police officers face.


Anonymous said...

Grits..I totally agree with you...lol..but expect the backlash from the "cops" about your post..lol.

Anonymous said...

The media has long been a source of false propaganda for law enforcement. The current drug prohibition had its beginnings in the media.

Not only does the media exaggerate dangers posed to cops, but it also is complicit with law enforcement to hide child sex crimes committed by police officers. Take the recent case of West Columbia Police Chief Michael Parker. The chief went on the run a few months ago when investigators turned up evidence that he'd bound, gagged and sexually assaulted a young boy, repeatedly, beginning all the way back in 1998. They even found bondage gear in Palmer's office at the police department. Just an hours drive from Houston and the huge media market there, yet only one station had the gall to report the case: http://www.click2houston.com/news/former-west-columbia-police-chief-michael-parker-facing-sex-charges/-/1735978/21724588/-/pwrqqfz/-/index.html

And it doesn't end there. Since we began our page exposing the fact that more police officers are convicted of child sex crimes than ALL other professions COMBINED, we are now seeing a lot of reports with headlines that refer to "city worker" or "county employee" instead of police officer or deputy. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tribute-to-survivors-of-child-sexual-assault-by-law-enforcement-officers/180584842010594

When contacted about why the headline was misleading in a recent article, the reporter explained that she depended upon her good relationship with law enforcement to get information for her stories, and that she didn't want to anger them and thus have her information highway closed down.

Anonymous said...

Well said anonymous. It is a sad society that we live in when we tend to fear the cops more than the criminals.

Anonymous said...

Very well argued, Grits.

I think the day to day stress of working as patrol officer is probably a lot more cortisol-producing than working as a roofer. But the risk of death is objectively quite low. And cop pay is quite reasonable, especially in some of the larger urban PDs.

I've always thought being a good cop is one of the toughest jobs a person could do. Having to deal with rude, angry, drunk, crazy people, at least some of the time, in addition to everybody else, in the context of charged situations, all with discipline and professional courtesy, to me seems really hard to do.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Agreed, 12:40. I'm not downplaying the difficulty of dealing with rude, angry, drunk and crazy people. That's no fun. But the risk of death just isn't comparable to garbage collectors, roofers, commercial fishermen, etc.. Arguing the job is more stressful than many others is fair game. But the claim that "No one can seriously dispute the minute-to-minute danger of being a police officer" does not survive scrutiny when you get down to the actual data.

Anonymous said...


You missed the most important data - newspaper publishers! A fatality rate of 6.7; less than police but more than many. Weird. :~)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@4:40, you obviously don't know many publishers! Of those I've personally known over the years, I can think of two or three, at least, who might inspire a reasonable person to contemplate homicide. ;) /JK

Strangely, there have been several years publishers were higher than average on the list. E.g., 5.1 per 100K in 2008. I don't know how to explain that.

Anonymous said...

Criminal Justice fields are extremely dangerous. The hidden stats are what kills most criminal justice professionals... In corrections the average officer has a life expectancy of 58 years of age... PTSD and suicides are extremely high. Diseases related to stress are the main cause of death. The average officer dies within a year and a half of retiring.

Anonymous said...


I have heard that factoid before but I wonder if that isn't an urban myth like the 35 Black Panthers who were supposed to have been killed by police.

If you have an authoritative source, please post it. Personally, I doubt that it is true.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@10:21/11:03 - In 2011, Politifact rated a similar claim false. They cited a study of male retirees by the California pension system that concluded, "Whether a person was age 50, 55, 60 or 65, the life expectancies of the police officers were slightly higher than for other workers. For example, men age 60 who had taken regular retirement were projected to live to age 82.7, versus age 81.9 for workers who were not in the public safety field." So the statement that the average officer dies a year and a half after retirement is just not true.

North Texas Cop said...

Scott, while your numbers are accurate (and there is some sensationalizing of the daily dangers of our jobs), you've still missed the point. It's not about on-the-job deaths or injuries. It's about on-the-job murders, attempted murders, and assaults.

There ARE jobs where the death & injury rates are higher than those in law enforcement. Taxi cab drivers and convenience store clerks suffer some of the highest rates of simple assault. However, it's all about severity and context. No one shoots the 7-11 clerk simply because he's wearing the company uniform. People DO randomly shoot cops simply because they're cops.

There was a time when police were killed and injured at much higher rates. Better armor, training, & tactics has brought the number down dramatically. As with all other Americans, modern medical care has also saved wounded & injured cops who would have otherwise died. 

So, yes, being a logger or a fishermen is statistically more dangerous than being a cop. But those guys are injured in more industrial settings with pre-identified risks and dangerous equipment. They know what will kill them and how. Cops are killed & injured in much more dynamic & uncertain situations, often by another human being with malicious intent. That's the difference.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

NTC says, "People DO randomly shoot cops simply because they're cops."

And people randomly shoot schoolchildren, too, lately with much greater frequency than they "randomly shoot cops." But when was the last time you heard someone say schoolchildren "put their lives on the line every day," etc.? Those episodes are extremely rare but you portray them as an everyday threat.

Cops who die on the job most frequently perish in car crashes, often because they failed to wear a seatbelt. That's a far greater threat to officer safety than "random" shootings.

Police officers deserve respect for the service they provide, as do garbage collectors, incidentally, but the siege mentality you and your media enablers exhibit simply isn't justified.

Anonymous said...

Grits why not post the rates of assault as well

South Tex said...

Grits I for one like to read your blog as I have found many of your points of view refreshing.

Dallas has had issues for a while. Much like border patrol, they went under a hiring initiative that basically pulled everyday joe off the street, gave them a badge and a gun, and set them on their way.

Much like Border Patrol, Dallas is having issues as a result of the hiring frenzy. Its a pretty good example of why most everyday Joe's cant simply do this job, including all the people that love to bash the police.

Put a good cop next to a bad cop and 11 out of 10 times the negatives of the bad cop out weighs the positives of the good. You can put 5 or 6 good cops next to the bad cop and still the negatives outweigh the good.

As for the media...it depends. Most of the articles I see from the media arent always for actual crimes. I often see lawsuits from people being arrested or are complaining on officers for simply no good reason.

Take 11:05 for example. Why isn't there a facebook page for survivors of sexual assault by repeat offenders let loose by liberal judges?

If your gonna argue a point, at least be fair and be objective. People like 1105 make me sick. Not because of what they are doing but because of how they do it. To me if your gonna cover something at least cover all of it.

Anonymous said...

@11:05, your definition of fairness is a bit skewed, isn't it? What does a report about the actions of "liberal" judges ( I assume you refer to those who actually understand the concept of due process and constitutional law) have to do with corrupt cops and how would a story about a judges' actions create a "fair and balanced" approach to journalism?

It's kind of like a kid whining about getting caught stealing cookies and then complaining about someone else who did it and didn't get punished. Makes no difference as to the original action (or original crime in this case). Punishing the second person doesn't make the first person's punishment any more "fair and objective".

Cops point out the alleged crimes committed every day by citizens - in many cases even before they are convicted. Simply look at the police departments that actively arranged to advertise and publish the IDs and booking photos of those arrested for solicitation of prostitution. Anonymous 11:05 simply provides that same service on corrupt cops.

Regarding your point about bad cops corrupting good ones - well said. I never looked at the problem from that perspective. Appreciate the viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

Boy did I screw up the previous comment. The 09:20 comment was a response to 8:21 writing ABOUT 11:05's entry. Obviously still need my morning coffee!

Unknown said...

The media had a conniption fit 3 years ago when the son of Dallas Police Chief Brown killed Lancaster police officer.


Anonymous said...

It's really worse than that, Grits. If you look at the annual FBI statistics an average of say 55 cops out of a million die each year by being shot. About 5 of those pear year seem to be -shot by other cops or accidentally shooting themselves.

The rest of the deaths? Auto accidents (high speed, reckless driving and not wearing seat belts are strong contributors here), heart attacks, falling down, anything ... are all considered "deaths in the line of duty".

I don't consider driving accidents as facing danger by cops. Virtually every single one of us drives - check out the number of highway related deaths in the general populace v. those of cops. Cops face less danger from this cause and each of us takes more risk just going to work or the store.

It really is garbage, helped strongly by police unions, to portray themselves as "heroes", and to get more and more and more military equipment (such as armored carriers with belt fed .50 caliber machine guns)to play soldier with against a non-existent enemy, i.e. "we the people".

Great that you brought this canard up.

Anonymous said...

Where do schoolteachers rate? There's been two murdered in the past week: http://www.chron.com/news/crime/article/Mass-teacher-slain-14-year-old-student-charged-4918746.php?cmpid=hpts

Then you have all the ones killed in recent school shootings. But what you never have are teachers whining about the stress and the dangers. Threats? Assaults? They occur on a daily basis.

Like cops, teachers realize the pitfalls when they sign on for the job. But unlike cops, they don't use it as a bargaining chip for higher pay nor do they use it to mitigate their actions when charged with a crime.

The difference boils down to integrity. Those who choose careers as teachers have it, while those who choose law enforcement careers don't.

Anonymous said...

The stat I gave was for Corretional Officers, not Police Officers as quoted in the Politifact.

The Stat for Correctional Officers comes from a Metropolitian Life Actuarial Statistic. A similar study published in the NCJRS found similar results citing the age of 59 as the average life expectancy for Correctional Officers.

Anonymous said...

Damn, NTC deserves credit for posting a positive comment. He didn't offer up excuses for the lying, killer cops' (plural tense since there were two cops with corroberating Reports').

Keep that up and you just might earn the respect you seek.

I'll make you deal, if you post without being a bully from now on, I'll bash those that needlessly bash you. Have a good day.

Anonymous said...

"you've still missed the point. It's not about on-the-job deaths or injuries. It's about on-the-job murders, attempted murders, and assaults."

Hmm,I thought Grits would reply to this portion in person but, until then I'll attempt to.

Regarding "It's". With the Post's title being what it is and the article being about pointing out the fact that editorials' like this one that "exaggerate" & condone while ignoring the obvious fatass elephant with a smoking gun seem to be nothing more than grandstanding. Anything goes when your job is to move paper and get fools to click on a link.

When a large Paper or well known news anchor person skews the event down to an element of doing ones dangerous job prior to an on going investigation being completed, it taints any & all potential Jury pools'. "It's" seems be about cops that kill, conspire to file false Report's, and get off the hook or probation due to the public reading false or watered down articles / editorials that downplay murder by public servants.

Well done DMN so-called - Editors, you've assisted the cherry picked Grand Jury in deciding what they should do for those that gave them a comfy chair, power tripping pens, free food and drink.

Anonymous said...

Grits, do you happen to know - if the killers' planted a knife at the scene,

Asking due to the claim of self defense resting on a 'knife' and the media (that just happens to be owned by the same folks that own then DMN) only showing a select loop with the victim standing up, grab his belly and drop like a rock with his killers at a very safe distance.

Anonymous said...

Note: anyone that's knowingly and willingly having a mental case in their household should not have to learn this from a Comment Section but, I feel it's warranted since the media and doctors fail to.

If he / she is deemed to be "Off their meds." or eating their own feces, Do Not Call The Police. calling 911 is like calling in a death squad.

They are armed, some are jicky from two or three wars or from a recent shoot out. Some are on steroids. They all have guns and tasers and you know this already.

Instead consider calling his / her Doctor and the Animal Control Department and tell them to bring a trank gun and a very large net. Have a signed and notorized waiver with you allowing them to shoot a tranqulizer dart and / or surround him / her with a large shrimp or sainning net.

*If you insisit on calling 911 at least tell them to stay in their vehicle and talk through a cracked window. They won't listen but, it'll be on the 911 recording.

Adam said...

I definitely agree with you Grits, this exaggeration needs to stop.

Anonymous said...

It's true that nearly half the deaths of cops are from car accidents with the majority of cops dying by not wearing their seat belt. Don't expect me to feel sorry for these cops dying because they weren't wearing their seat belts. These guys write tickets everyday for people not wearing a seat belt, those cops got what they deserved for being ignorant and two faced.

Anonymous said...

North Texas Cop,

Please explain to me the difference between "Cops are killed & injured in much more dynamic & uncertain situations, often by another human being with malicious intent" and a convenience store clerk gunned down in the middle of the night working for 10 bucks an hour. I don't understand "the difference", especially the following Sunday at the local graveside.

doran said...

Here is a link to a Will Grigg essay on another aspect of why cops can be expected to shoot and kill when it is not necessary to defending themselves.


Anonymous said...

Being related to a former cop, affords me the opportunity to address the no seat belt deaths.

When they exit the cruiser the remove it & when they enter it to perform warrant searches they don't replace it.

When they are chasing the bad guys (criminals) they remove it in order to get out at the optimal moment.

Some are too damn fat to wear the protective vest muchless the seat belt due to discomfort.

Check the weight class of the car crash victims' or, if you are brave enough try asking a real cop when you see him / her not wearing one - Why?

Anonymous said...

Grits I have to say that I finally agree with you on something. The Media, including bloggers, skew everything. Currently the media just reports on what they hear and not what is true. They exploit the story until the common person thinks the world is coming to an end. Rumors are rampant and have taken over the news.
I have been a cop for over 35 years and, while I have had my share of bumps, bruises, and near misses, I am still here. Stats don't tell the whole story. Just because there aren't more dead cops doesn't mean it is not dangerous and to say that a profession where a person straps on several types of weapons and protective gear to go to work isn't one of the most dangerous jobs is ludicrous.

Anonymous said...

Yes, doran, the 'y' is missing and I did just for you and your spell checking buds.

Anonymous said...

1:09, I have been a circus clown for going on 12 minutes. The point is - just because someone says they are this & that isn't any reason to go along with it.

If you are the real deal then, I'll be the first to thank you for your service and opologize for hanking your chain like you just did to Grits. If you are from Harris County, I have alot of questions for you sir, mam. We just might bew friends?

Unknown said...

I believe there is truth to the statement that officers don't die at a rate of that of loggers and garbage collectors in this day and age. But as a fifteen year Law enforcement officer I can honestly say that Grits you are looking at the numbers one dimensionally!! just in the last six days in New Mexico alone there have been five officers shot!!! Almost one a day!! advances in technology have decreased officer deaths by nearly sixty percent since 1970. nearly everyone in this country can say that they have a dangerous job, you can get struck by a car delivering mail, or wrapped in a net as it is being tossed overboard into icy waters, but a log doesn't load and aim a handgun, a roof wont stab you during a traffic stop, and a lobster certainly wont try and push you into oncoming traffic as you are trying to talk to it on the side of the road. every profession has its bad apples, lets try to thank the good apples for a job well done considering this being the most challenging time of the X generation. PS. do a little more research before writing your blog, I have thoroughly enjoyed the past topics, but this time you just look ignorant!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Matthew Martinez, if 10 schoolchildren are shot in one day does that mean schools are more dangerous than your job? What additional research would you have me do besides examining actual data on deaths? The Dallas News editorial offered opinion with no substance. I checked their facts and reported what the data said. What additional information, and from what sources, do you think I should have looked at to complete the picture? You offer nothing but rhetoric, not research, in your critique.