Wag the Dog: Cops Are Out of Control!!

About this supposed epidemic of police violence on the citizens of this country ...

By Jim Glennon  |   May 12, 2016

That’s the almost totally uncontested narrative by everyone from Hillary Clinton to the media outlets and of course the—too many to count—activist groups chanting in the streets, disrupting city council meetings, and sitting in the lobby of police stations: the cops are out of control.

And man does it plays well on the tube and internet. It also distracts from the true issues when it comes to crime and violence on the streets of this country. Violent crime is on the rise. Murders have hit records not seen since the 1990s. Communities are floundering. Children are dying.

But it’s the cops who are the root cause of this country’s problems? Do I have that right?

To “wag the dog” means to divert attention from a matter of great importance to one of relative insignificance. Of which this is a case in point.

As I said, the anti-cop rhetoric seems to be a constant spew. Meanwhile topics such as violent street gangs, drugs, and turf wars go barely mentioned. There are exceptions in the media, those who cite real crime stats and ask probing questions. Unfortunately, they are the exceptions.

And then, of course, we have the sheriffs. Several around the country have been very vocal in their defense of law enforcement. They answer to voters who are pro-police.

But, unfortunately, traditional police agencies, at least in the upper echelons, too often cozy up to politicians and other power brokers in the community. Voters be damned. And this means demeaning and denigrating the rank and file to appease professional haters.

The Actual Stats: Police Shootings

Well as the saying goes, “There are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics.”

In my next couple of articles I’m going to address real crime statistics and highlight who are the real victims. The ones ignored as we focus on the supposed epidemic of violence perpetrated by our nation’s police.

An epidemic is a problem that is prevalent and widespread.

So in this article let’s just address the claim that cops are using “every opportunity” to shoot people (the exact accusation made to me by a cable news producer last year).

We have somewhere in the area of 700,000 police officers in the country give or take a hundred thousand or so. There are over 17,000 departments with approximately 12,000-plus contributing to the stats cited by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to the FBI in 2014:

  • There were approximately 1,165,000 violent crimes (classified murder offenses, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults).
  • There were an estimated 8,277,000 property crimes (burglaries, larceny-thefts).
  • Police made an estimated 11,205,833 arrests during 2014 which averages out to over 30,000 every day.
  • In addition, the FBI estimates that law enforcement officers had approximately 40,000,000 face-to-face contacts with people in the country.
  • According to the Washington Post, 986 people were shot and killed in 2015. Let’s presume that for everyone killed, two were shot. Call it 3,000 total shot. [Publisher’s Note: If you have a more accurate number for total people shot by police, please email me the source. [email protected]]

Using all these approximates let’s look at this epidemic mathematically.

If in fact police officers shot 3,000 people out of the 40 million they had contact with, that number when broken down into a fraction is: 0.000075.

Epidemic of police shootings? Taking every opportunity to shoot?

Let’s look at the number of arrests, something most find unpleasant and therefore tend to resist and/or avoid.

When ciphering the 11,205,833 arrests with 3,000 being shot that number jumps up to a whopping: 0.00026772.

Epidemic?

And here are three things not mentioned or factored in by the Washington Post, The Guardian (based out of the U.K.) and the Huffington Post when they give their raw numbers about police shootings.

  1. The behavior of the people who were shot often forces officers to shoot. Yes, some have mental illnesses or were good people having bad days. That doesn’t mean they weren’t, in the moment they were shot, deadly.
  2. There are countless times that the officers don’t shoot when they were legally justified and probably should have. If they survived, it’s because they got lucky.
  3. Stress! The decision to shoot occurs under enormous stress—stress you can’t imagine—with situations evolving in milliseconds and involving multitudes of input to consider in no time.

This doesn’t discount our need to make significant changes: Examining the reality of maladaptive bias, curbing and punishing particularly bad behavior, and, most importantly, addressing stress—stress, stress, stress—in our training modalities.

Conclusion

Let me end with this observation: Making up or manipulating stats to drive an agenda may serve a purpose. But someone will suffer the consequence of that untruth.

It won’t be the cops: They will get paid for literally doing the bare minimum. It won’t be the politicians: They will say what needs to be said (even if it’s utter nonsense) to get reelected. It won’t be the pundits and activists: They will move along to the next cheap outrage.

So who then?

Go to the gang- and drug-ravaged neighborhoods. See if you find any children playing in the streets.

You won’t. They’re hiding inside.

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Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.