Body Counts Don’t Tell the Whole Story

By Joel F. Shults  |   Nov 19, 2015

When “experts” are quoted by CNN disclaiming that the current climate is killing cops, we need to be ready to help our communities understand the truth that the numbers are skewed by both lack of information and reporting bias. Major media outlets, along with police critics, are minimizing today’s anti-police fervor by reporting that police deaths are still relatively low compared to years past. That’s no comfort to the loved ones of the cops murdered in the last year. Nor does it reflect the reality of the current crisis.

Dearth of Data

One of the biggest gaps in measuring risk by the numbers is the count of officers assaulted. The FBI’s number of roughly 50,000 assaults on officers annually is often referenced. The FBI only works with what gets reported and, unlike officer murders that are accurately counted, assaults on officers are not.

My survey on violence against law enforcement officers showed that 21% of officers responding to the survey indicated that within the previous 12 months they “have had to seek medical care … resulting from an assault or resistance from a suspect.” Another 63% reported they had been “… physically assaulted in a way that caused physical discomfort or pain” but they did not seek medical attention. Another 24% reported being threatened with a deadly weapon, and 80% reported being threatened with assault if caught off-duty by an offender.

If this poll is correct, we have a tremendous deficit of information on the real risk that police officers face daily. Taking a conservative estimate of half a million police officers working the streets (another number we’re not sure of) and we now have closer to 100,000 cops annually who sought medical treatment for injuries, 300,000 cops hurt that walked it off, and another 100,000 or directly threatened with deadly assault.

It’s hard to blame the media for using the limited amount of data that’s out there. We have no national clearinghouse for reporting assaults on officers unless the officer dies, and certainly no way to begin to count the anecdotal reports of increased resistance to police contacts. On the other hand it’s not hard to blame critics for misusing existing statistics to find fault with the police.

Tired and irrelevant comparisons of police deaths to previous decades, police deaths to police shootings, police deaths in America to police deaths in Norway serve as curious fodder for discussion but shed absolutely no light on the realities of violent encounters. Critics also fail to acknowledge the role that improved trauma care and tourniquets play in officer survival.

Conclusion

The spike in murder by ambush is hard to explain outside of the ramped up anti-police rhetoric parroted over the past year and beyond. If critics and observers want to claim that the harsh voices of cop haters and skeptical journalists have no effect on the behavior of large numbers of people, why would advertisers pay media outlets to buy advertising that will affect consumer behavior? As it turns out when it comes to journalism black lines do matter.