Police Officer Safety: Tragedies and Statistics

I am moved by the story of Tacoma Police Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez, who was killed in the line of duty while saving the lives of his partner and his killer’s wife. Those who can afford to should consider donating to his memorial fund.

Nothing can compensate for a lost life, but that should not obscure the fact that police shootings, thankfully, are infrequent. Gutierrez was the first Tacoma officer to die from gunshot wounds since 1997.

Police officer deaths from gunfire are featured on TV, in newspapers, and on social media. As with Gutierrez, in many instances the incidents are memorable for the bravery displayed by the slain officer. Statistics, however, show that police deaths by gunfire are relatively rare.

According to the Washington Post, being a patrol officer is safer than many blue collar jobs, from logging and farming to roofing and construction. At least in 2013, taxi drivers were homicide victims more than twice as often as patrol officers.

According to Daniel Bier at the conservative Foundation for Economic Education:

Fatalities and murders of police have been falling for decades — per resident, per officer, and even in absolute terms.

Sadly, the number of officers killed with guns is up in 2016. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, there have been 62 gun-related deaths in 2016, compared with 38 in 2015. Even here the news is not as grim as it might be: in 2011, for instance, 73 officers were killed by guns, and 70 were killed with guns in 2007.

According to the Bier, in 2008 (the most recent year for which Bier could find comparable data), police were murdered at a lower rate than citizens. That is, police are less likely to be killed by guns than the general population of a large city. According to the Brennan Center, the murder rate in the country’s 30 largest cities has risen slightly in 2016, so this will remain true. In Chicago, the projected murder rate in 2016 will be 26.6 per 100,000; for police, it was 5.2 per 100,000 in 2008.

Why does this matter? Back to Daniel Bier at the FEE:

There are real liabilities to inflating the threats to police. If you tell cops over and over that they’re in a war, they’re under siege, they’re under attack, and that citizens are the enemy — instead of the people they’re supposed to protect — you’re going to create an atmosphere of fear, tension, and hostility that can only end badly, as it has for so many people.

As we celebrate the life of Officer Gutierrez, and mourn his death, we should also keep perspective about the safety of police officers.