Following a year in which the public was relentlessly barraged with alarmist rhetoric about a “war on cops” and the dreadful impact of the so-called “Ferguson Effect,” official FBI statistics confirm that violent line-of-duty police deaths declined precipitously in 2015.
“Preliminary statistics … show that 41 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2015. This is a decrease of almost 20 percent when compared with the 51 officers killed in 2014.” A greater number of officers (45) suffered fatal injuries in duty-related accidents, 41 of which involved motor vehicles.
Through May 17 of this year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, there have been 35 line-of-duty police officer deaths, 21 of which involve violence, such as gunfire or vehicular assault. This suggests that 2016 might see an increase in that grim total, but fortunately that remains only a possibility.
Throughout 2015, law enforcement officials, police unions, and even FBI Director James Comey warned of a “war on cops” that was supposedly an outgrowth of what they called the “Ferguson Effect” – police reluctance to use force because of concerns over negative publicity. On May 10, for instance, Comey reiterated that theme, insisting that the “viral video effect” has changed “the way police may be acting” by inhibiting them from taking assertive action to deal with violent crime. This supposedly leaves police more insecure, thereby emancipating criminals to wreak havoc on under-protected communities.
However, as former Baltimore police officer-turned-police reform advocate Michael Wood Jr. told The Intercept, there are cases in which less aggressive policing has corresponded to a decline in violent crime: Where police don’t treat the public as an enemy to be subdued, the public responds by seeking help, and giving it, in the effort to deter crimes against persons and property.
“Police now for the first time are having to consider the consequences of being brutal, being unethical, and doing things that for the longest time they could do and not be accountable for,” Wood declares. “But that doesn’t make crime happen.”
Comey’s melodramatic statements about a “chill wind blowing through law enforcement,” and reliance on things he has been told “in lots of conversations privately with police leaders” demonstrate that “he is pushing an ideology,” Woods continues. “Comey’s position is that if the armed enforcement wing of the government takes its boot off the neck of the public, just a little, then we will just become killers.”
While fewer police suffered violent deaths last year than in any year since 2013 – when 27 officers were feloniously killed – there is no evidence that the police have been inhibited in the use of deadly force. According to unofficial tabulations, at least 1,200 Americans died in violent encounters with the police last year. Official notice is taken of each of the exceedingly rare instances in which police are violently killed, but there is no official tally of people killed by the police, or accounting for whether each use of lethal force was legally justified.
It is true, as Comey and other law enforcement officials have said, that last year’s murder rate was about eleven percent higher than the year before, as defined by crime statistics gathered in the country’s 30 largest cities. However, as the Brennan Center for Justice points out in its detailed report on the subject, “Even with the 2015 increases, murder rates are roughly the same as they were in 2012”; furthermore, while murder rates were up in 14 of the 30 largest cities, 11 others saw that rate go down last year.
When all documented offenses against persons and property were taken into account, elaborates the Brennan Center, the crime rate for 2015 declined by 1.5 percent.
“It is important to remember just how much crime has fallen in the last 25 years,” underscores the Brennan Center report. “The crime rate is now half what it was in 1990, and almost a quarter (22 percent) less than it was at the turn of the century.”
Since violent on-duty police deaths are vanishingly rare, and crime of all kinds at near-historic lows, what is the real “Ferguson Effect”?
Perhaps the true meaning of that expression is found in the emergence of a movement spearheaded by police unions to define law enforcement as a “specially protected category” for the purposes of “hate crimes” prosecution.
Police officers already enjoy the benefits of “Blue Privilege” – qualified immunity and special consideration in the use of occupational violence. Criminal offenses against police officers are already treated as serious felonies. However, at the urging of police unions and their allies, legislatures in several states are considering bills that would treat violence against police – such as actively resisting arrest – as hate crimes.
Versions of that legislation, which is supported by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) – the country’s largest police union – have been introduced in Maryland and Louisiana, and as ordinances in several cities. The Louisiana bill, HB 953, would make any offense committed against a person or property because of “actual or perceived … employment as a law enforcement officer or firefighter” a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
An FOP-supported bill in Maryland that would likely serve as a model for federal legislation would make resisting arrest a “hate crime” owing to the identity of the supposed victim. State legislatures elsewhere are considering similar measures, and some municipal governments are enacting resolutions endorsing the FOP’s demand to swaddle police officers in federal “specially protected” status.
In a letter to President Obama, Chuck Canterbury, National President of the armed tax-feeders’ union, demanded that “the current Federal hate crimes law be expanded to include law enforcement officers. This call has gone unanswered and our nation’s law enforcement officers continue to die in the streets.”
Displaying tone-deafness as to what his comments say about the supposed valor of police officers, Canterbury demanded that cops be designated a “specially protected” group who are “hunted and targeted just because of the uniform they wear.” This woeful account of insurgent criminals and besieged cops evolved into a demand that “hate speech” be treated as a federal offense.
“Elected officials are quick to console the families of the fallen and praise us for the difficult and dangerous work that we do every day,” sniffles the FOP commissar. “Yet, too many are silent when the hate speech floods the media with calls for violence against police or demands that police stand down and give them” – Canterbury never defines “them,” interestingly – “`room to destroy.’ The violence will not end until the rhetoric does which is why I have called on Congress and your Administration to work with us to address the surge of violence against police by expanding the Federal hate crimes law to protect police.” (Emphasis added.)
The objective here, once again, is to penalize rhetoric as a criminal act against a member of a specially protected class. Apparently, the “War on Cops” won’t be won until citizens who criticize them face criminal prosecution for doing so.