Oh, That War on Cops

Writing in the Washington Post thirteen months ago, Radley Balko assured his readers that, contrary to widespread belief, there was no “war on cops.” He cited a Rasmussen poll taken the week before that found 58 percent of respondents believed there was indeed such a war while just 27 percent did not. Public opinion was at odds with the truth, Balko wrote, and he had the data to support his position: FBI statistics showed that officer deaths from gunfire and non-fatal assaults on police had been declining for years.  Balko wrote that 2015 was “shaping up to be the second safest year for police ever, after 2013.”

It’s good to be reminded when the actual statistics run counter to public perception. Police work is after all concerned with seeking the truth, and law enforcement is not served when hysteria is fomented by misleading information. That said, what would Balko say about this year? Has the war whose existence he denied last year now begun?

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 46 police officers have been shot to death in the United States so far this year, a staggering 55 percent increase over the number seen at this time in 2015. Balko would perhaps argue that this is an aberration, a statistical blip on an otherwise downward trend, like a brief rally in a long-term bear market. And maybe it is, but whatever the multi-year trend may be, a 55 percent increase surely bears examination. Even the skeptics of the “war on cops” must admit that there has been a change in attitudes regarding crime and policing over the last several years, a change that became all the more pronounced with the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. Lest we forget, the officer who shot Brown was acting completely within the law when he did so. Despite this, the Brown shooting brought the Black Lives Matter movement to prominence, and despite its origins in the poisonous lie of “hands up, don’t shoot,” it continues to shape both perceptions and policy in American policing.

As proof of this, witness how farcical have become the meetings of the Los Angeles Police Commission, where the same small group of BLM activists appear every Tuesday morning to harangue the panel, often in the coarsest of terms, this despite the obvious ideological sympathy the commissioners have for the protesters. It was this same police commission, after all, that found an officer had acted “out of policy” when he shot a woman who aggressively advanced on him while brandishing a knife. Reflecting the commission’s emphasis on “de-escalation,” the panel ruled that the officer should have “re-deployed,” a euphemism for their insistence that he should have run away.

The same blinkered mindset has also taken root in Chicago, where policy changes on police use of force are, according to the Chicago Tribune, “aimed at reducing controversies.” Chicago’s politicians and the Police Department’s command staff are understandably eager to avoid “controversies” that might undermine their comfortable positions, but what price will the city’s cop’s pay for this eagerness? We already have an answer to that question in the form of an officer who was badly injured by a man under the influence of PCP. The officer decided not to use her gun to defend herself, she told Superintendent Eddie Johnson, because the feared a public backlash if she did. On Oct. 5, two officers were flagged down and alerted to a traffic accident that had just occurred on the city’s West Side. The officers stopped to investigate and found that a car had crashed into the front doors of a liquor store. The driver of the car was walking away and ignored the officers’ commands to stop. And here the officers had a decision to make: They could let the man walk away, impound the car, and take a hit-and-run report, thereby avoiding even minimal risk of “controversy,” or they could do their duty and stop him, the better to find out how he had come to drive his car into the liquor store.