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Is violence against police really on the rise?

MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Lt. Bob Kroll

In a commentary published in the Star Tribune Wednesday, Minneapolis Police union president Lt. Bob Kroll took aim at statements made by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman regarding the circumstances of the shooting by a Minneapolis Police officer of Minneapolis woman Justine Damond.

Earlier in the week, Freeman, speaking to Minneapolis residents at a neighborhood forum, said of the shooting, “It didn’t have to happen. It shouldn’t have happened.”

After an audience member asked Freeman why the officer involved in the shooting, Mohamed Noor, wasn’t in jail as, the person contended, a civilian would be after such a shooting, Freeman said he hadn’t thought about it that way before.

Kroll called the county attorney’s fairness into question — Freeman will make the decision about whether or not to charge Noor. But Kroll went further, claiming that comments critical of police like those made by Freeman and other public officials are “fueling the creation of police widows and widowers.” He also linked comments by Gov. Mark Dayton about how Philando Castile shouldn’t have died at the hands of St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez to the deaths of five Dallas Police officers the next day.

“Police officers are being killed at an increasing rate,” he wrote.

Leaving aside Kroll’s implication that remarks critical of police by public officials are causing such an increase, is he right to claim that killings of police officers are up in recent years? As with most things involving data, it depends on how you look at it.

National, local police deaths

In the short term, the number of police killed in the line of duty in the United States is indeed up. In 2016, the number of officers killed in the line of duty hit a five-year high, at 143, according to a report by the the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which tracks officer deaths. In the first six months of 2017, 65 officers were killed in the line of duty in the U.S., an increase of 30 percent over the same period the year prior.

Generally, though, in the last five years have seen fewer officer deaths than in the past.

In the 1980s, there was an average 191 officer deaths each year. In the 1990s, 163. The 2000s, 155 (on September 11, 2001, 72 officers died as a result of the terrorist attacks). So far this decade, since 2010, there have been an average of 145 officer deaths each year.

U.S. Law enforcement deaths by year, 1980-2016
Source: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund

That’s the national picture. Looking just at Minnesota, the numbers are much lower.

In Minnesota, the number of cops killed in the line of duty has remained relatively stable since 2009, with between 0 and 1 death each year. 2010 was the one exception when there were two law enforcement deaths, according to the state’s uniform crime reports. That year, a Mahnomen County Sheriff’s deputy died after being shot in the head and stomach in 2009, and a Maplewood police sergeant was shot and killed by a carjacking suspect while sitting in his squad car, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

Minnesota law enforcement deaths by year, 2009-2016
Source: Minnesota Uniform Crime Reports

State reports, compiled by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension each year, aggregate crime statistics from law enforcement agencies across the state, making them the most reliable source of such data in Minnesota. Individual police departments are responsible for reporting deaths, so it is possible that some deaths are omitted from these reports.

In a tragic incident last week, 47-year-old William Mathews, a Wayzata police officer was struck and killed by the car of a woman alleged to be on drugs and using her phone as he cleared debris on State Highway 12, bringing 2017’s toll to at least one.

Assaults on police officers are down a bit in Minnesota, from 415 officers assaulted in 2014 to 350 in 2016.

Minnesota law enforcement members assaulted by year, 2009-2016
Source: Minnesota Uniform Crime Reports

In 2016, 268 officers were assaulted with hands, feet or fists, 14 with firearms, eight with knives, and 60 with “other.” Most often, officers were assaulted when responding to disturbance calls. Officers were injured in 52 percent of cases.

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Comments (15)

Protect and Serve

I think we have two basic problems that have contributed to the current crises.

The first is training. We've moved to a model of policing that trains officers to adopt a military mentality that assumes they are patrolling hostile populations rather than predominately peaceful communities. We've created a fear based military regime that basically encourages violent escalation, and shoot first ask questions later. This mentality is best expressed by the common refrain among officers: "I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6".

The second problem is the longstanding attitude that civilians have no business criticizing the police or officers, no matter how obviously absurd their conduct is. This notion that unless you're ridden in a squad you have should just keep quite and defer to the badge is simply contrary to the whole notion of law enforcement in a democracy. We've created increasingly insular silos for police officers and that distance between their mentalities and those of citizens is getting people killed.

Agree, but

It's not even really a military mentality. Our armed forces have strict rules of engagement and consequences for violating them.

It's a warrior or siege mentality that's both unhelpful and not reflective of conditions in the city or what many of us want our police to do.

Civilian

Police are civilians, not members of the military.
They are subject to the same civil law code as the rest of us, unlike the military, who are subject to the military law code.
The fact that police often phrase things in terms of 'us vs. civilians' is an indication that they view themselves as an invading army, not as members of society.

As the article has an answer

Why is the headline a question? Violence Against Police Is Not On The Rise.

My 2¢

Paul Udstrand has hit both nails on the head, I think.

Beyond that, however, I fully understand Lieutenant Kroll doing his usual best to exonerate and exempt his law enforcement brothers and sisters from the kind of scrutiny the rest of us would undergo if WE were the ones doing the shooting. A graduate/survivor of a similarly-embattled (though usually less physically risky) realm of public service (public school teaching), I’m familiar with the tendency to adopt a defensive posture regarding any criticism at all, and I also understand that support for one’s fellow practitioners is something that others in the field feel strongly ought to be a given, especially from their leadership.

In short, I’m not surprised that the Lieutenant has come to the defense of fellow officers. It’s part of his job, or at least what’s expected of him by fellow officers.

That expectation doesn’t automatically make him correct, however, and the evidence presented suggests that violence directed at the police has been, at most, stable, and could easily be seen as undergoing a slight decrease, rather than some sort of dramatic increase, as the Lieutenant would have us believe. I’d prefer that there be no violence at all directed at the police, but then, I’d also prefer that the police not shoot members of the public unless those people are actively and demonstrably trying to kill an officer. Wishing, as they say, doesn’t make it so.

I’d argue that the police should not be given the sort of blanket immunity from prosecution for assault, manslaughter, murder, and similar criminal acts that has been the case for decades. That de facto immunity significantly reinforces the mental or attitudinal "silos" that Paul mentions in his comment, to the detriment of both police and the citizens they're supposed to be serving.

A Deeper Dive

The statistics mentioned don't tell much of a story. What we are concerned with is intentional police deaths.

How many of the officer deaths were from traffic accidents? While it goes without saying, because this is the inter-webs I must add here that all officer deaths are tragic. But obviously there is a difference between an inattentive/drunk/stoned driver hitting an officer attending to a traffic situation and someone intentionally killing an officer.

As an officer of his union, Kroll is legally obligated to defend his members. Unions have been successfully sued for collecting dues and not representing members. Of course, in Right To Freeload states, they can be sued even if the fail to represent workers who have not paid dues or agency fees.

If the members decide to re-elect Kroll, they are stuck with the consequences of being represented by a knuckle dragger.

Yes, and

In addition to Frank's point about how officers are dying, using raw numbers doesn't tell us very much. Instead we should be looking at the rate vs the size of the police force; and vs the population overall. Lastly, how about comparing the rate of officer deaths to that of civilian deaths at the hands of officers? On this last score, it seems civilians are dying much more often than the officers sworn to serve and protect them.

Civilian Deaths at the Hands of Officers

Reliable figures on this are hard to come by, because they are self-reported by law enforcement. FBI figures, compiled from these reports, was shown to be embarrassingly inaccurate.

The Guardian's "Counted" project comes up with a figure of 1093 people killed by law enforcement in the US in 2016. This does not say how many of these killings were justified.

Agreed.

Agreed that the numbers do not tell the whole story.

Since the increase in protests, police have backed off of entering into dangerous situations and are making fewer arrests. So, if assaults on police have remained the same, that might indicate that, per incident (or encounter), the numbers may be up.

Source?

"Since the increase in protests, police have backed off of entering into dangerous situations and are making fewer arrests." Where does this information come from?

The most recent data on the number of arrests I could find dates from 2014. There is no data I could see on "number of dangerous situations entered into."

RB

I'm not sure what kind data you're looking for but there have been several reports in the media that officers (and in particular MPLS officers) are/were dialing back their interventions and confrontations:

http://www.startribune.com/minneapolis-officers-face-accusations-of-slow...

"Several Reports in the Media"

Which could be officers just venting their frustrations by holding back.

It could be a good thing that officers are making fewer arrests. Crime may be down, or there might be a focus on making arrests for crimes more important than, say, minor drug possession.

Police

I expect that over time police officers have generally become more professional, better trained, and less racist. The conduct of police officers is only now widely questioned because of the availability of cameras - both police and civilian cameras - and the instantaneous sharing of information on the internet. The misconduct you see has been going on forever, but wasn't revealed to the public. The job of a police officer is now much more public than it ever was.

The scrutiny police officers now face is not going away; its only going to increase - cameras are going to become more widespread and more sophisticated. Which means the behavior has to change. Bad cops (like the panicky Yanez) need to be taken off the street.

Whether or not Noor is deserving of criminal charges remains to be seen, but I can't imagine anyone taking issue with what Freeman said. Its the nonsense being spouted by Kroll that undermines confidence in the police and makes their jobs more dangerous.

Kroll is playing the short game

Kroll, as union head, has an obligation to make sure his members are treated fairly.

But he's going above and beyond to seemingly defend any behavior at any time. That works in the short run, but in the long run he allows confidence in the police to erode - even among those predisposed to give police the benefit of the doubt.

He may win a few battles, but he's losing the war. And squandering any moral authority he might need to help the public understand the difficult situations police find themselves in.

Betteridge.

The answer to any headline that ends in a question mark is NO.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge's_law_of_headlines

And a noted in a previous comment, a large percentage of police deaths are not due to violence.

From the same data set noted in the article, 56 of 143 were from transportation related accidents (car, etc). Another 15 were from illness.
Only 69 deaths were due to violence. Less than half.

http://www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data/causes.html

It sounds like an efficient method to reduce officer deaths would be to improve their vehicular safety. But that wouldn't be an argument against police violence would it?
That's actually an argument in favor of police better obeying existing laws....