Invariably, now more than ever, the media controls a lot about what people think of police officers. Not to overlook personal experiences, they are important too. However, when people see things on the news, especially negative stories, human nature leads people to believe this is the “norm” or worse, that those things happen every day in their own backyard. Though they may happen “every day” somewhere in the country, it isn’t always representative of what occurs in your city every day. This is particularly dangerous for police officers. By only reporting on officer involved shootings or other incidents that are negative in nature, the public begins to see that as a common thing, despite the fact that the sheer numbers and facts suggest otherwise.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2011 the numbers showed that 62.9 million U.S. residents age 16 and older, or about 26% of the population, had at least one encounter, face to face or remote with police. Assuming these numbers are fairly consistent, you can compare them to the number of fatal police shootings each year. Naturally, since Ferguson, this number has been more closely followed and documented. On average in the United State of America, 950-1000 people are shot and killed by the police. To be more specific here is the annual break down: 2015: 995, 2016: 963, and 2017: 987. I’m not a math major, so I won’t even attempt to determine the odds of being shot and killed by police, but the numbers appear to be 1000 people vs 62.9 million encounters. I’ll let you calculate the odds if you so choose. I think my calculator is broken.
All joking aside, it’s clear that the number of incidents involving deadly force are actually pretty rare. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s terrible that roughly 1000 incidents happen each year that result in someone’s death. Every shooting is tragic for everyone involved and countless family members on BOTH sides. If you think police officers aren’t affected by these incidents, I can assure you, you’re wrong in so many ways.
When solely looking at it from the odds perspective, it is highly improbable you will be shot by the police. Another way to look at it, is roughly 3 deadly force incidents happen across the country each day. Again, also troubling, however if you consider we have just over 325 million people in the United States, I would again submit that this number is extremely low and not quite the “epidemic” some may suggest.
To be quite honest, the goal for this page is to discuss police related topics and offer perspectives from the police officer point of view. All while also realizing and respecting the non-police perspective, point of view, or experiences that have led to their feelings toward police. All too often in America, it seems everyone just picks a side, slams a proverbial “stake in the ground” and that is now your “team”. Sort of ridiculous if you ask me. Truth be told, there are times when police officers are wrong. Why? You may start to notice a theme here, because they are HUMAN! (Thank you to those who have followed along and answered that in their subconscious as they read it). It is impossible to expect perfection, so naturally if all you ever say is police are right 100% of the time, well guess what, you’re wrong too. It also goes the other way, not all police shootings are “bad” or “unjustified”, even when the person is “unarmed”. Even worse is when I hear the “good officers” term thrown around in relation to officer involved shootings. Comments like this when referring to a recent police officer involved shooting, “Well, not all cops are bad, there are some good officers out there.” So what you’re saying is any officer who is involved in a shooting is now lumped into the “bad officer” group? Okay, that’s logical.
I will quickly say this, statistics regarding police shootings are improving since Ferguson in 2014, which is good, as they will hopefully begin to show the true story of policing in America. One important quote I saw while doing some research myself was this statement from the Denver Post, “These numbers show us that officer-involved shootings are constant over time,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina who has studied police use of force. “Some places go up, some go down, but it’s averaging out. This is our society in the 21st century.” I think this shows that policing in America is consistent and any suggestions that there is a “rise” in shootings would be untrue. More sensationalism in the media, does NOT equate to a rise in the actual numbers.
Sadly, what the news doesn’t report on or the general public seems to forget, is that every single day, hundreds of thousands of calls for service, traffic stops, and search warrants take place and almost always, nothing “bad” happens. Do things go awry from time to time? Of course. Officers get hurt, people get hurt, but thankfully by and large, shootings don’t happen and people aren’t killed. If something bad doesn’t happen, it’s probably because the police are doing their job as expected and whomever they are dealing with decided not to fight them, point weapons at them, bite them, spit on them, or try to take their gun from them. I’ve had all of these happen to me in my career, have you? “Part of the job” some will say and they’re right, but don’t let that skew the fact that such actions are dealt with using equal or greater force on behalf of the police, justifiably so.
Police are almost entirely REACTIONARY in nature. You call, they show up. They see something illegal happening, they react. Bad guy does something harmful or threatening, they react. Luckily, with body cameras and cell phone videos the notion that police just arbitrarily start hurting random people without cause will slowly be proven to be horrendously false. Assuming a video isn’t turned on halfway into a fight when the police officer is starting to win and there isn’t any context to the events that led to the fight. One of the most ridiculous trends you see now regarding video footage.
The sheer fact that nearly everything you hear about police is negative has an effect on the perception of police by the public. How you would you associate something positive with policing when all you read about is murders, robberies, fatality car accidents? On top of that lovely news, you also hear about when things go really bad and an officer is shot, an officer shoots someone, or a car chase ends badly. Everyone has heard the saying, “if it bleeds, it leads” and sadly it appears to almost always be true. You don’t turn on the local news at night and the news anchor starts off by saying, “Local police officer stopped to assist a stranded motorist today, it turned out the driver was a lost elderly person who was the subject of a Silver Alert, more on this tonight at 10!” Nope. It’s not news if it’s positive. I would venture to guess that well over 1000 extremely heart-warming, feel good, man we are proud that officer works in our city, incidents happen each year, but you won’t hear about them. It’s not what the news media wants you to hear. It isn’t what garners the most “clicks” or gets people to “tune in”. Controversy, sadness, division, anger, that’s what leads to more interaction with news sites. Sadly.
What baffles me the most is people see shows like COPS and Live PD and still are so fast to criticize, as if having watched these shows gives your opinion any merit as to “what I would have done!” To me, that’s like watching the show “Naked and Afraid” and yelling at the television, “Those bug bites are nothing you wimp!!!! Don’t tap out!” as the person is sitting in an ant pile, naked as the day they were born in a rain forest, in a country you’ve never been to, yet you think “YOU could do it”. Okay couch warrior, get off your duff and you go do it, then report back after you tap out in 24 hours or less. It’s comical. You aren’t in that person’s shoes. You aren’t experiencing the pain and anguish of being eaten by bugs as you lay naked in some strange place. Much like you don’t know what it is like to fight someone on PCP, or pull someone over who is acting suspicious, or dealing with someone who has a felony warrant and a gun under their seat on a traffic stop. How do you a handle those situations? Police do it every day and 99.9% of the time they do it right and by the book. If all goes well, everyone goes home – or to jail – but no one gets seriously hurt. Ideal, but not always the way things go. Sadly.
Also, a disturbing, yet emerging trend lately, has been incidents in which citizens BLATANTLY lie about what happened to them when they encountered police. Lo and behold, we roll the body or dash camera footage only to show the citizens have completely fabricated these accusations and are 100% false.
Thank a first responder today, and be safe!
– The Officer Next Door