“There is the myth that policing is a dangerous occupation. In fact, it is one of the safest jobs in the country in terms of death and injury. It doesn’t even make the Top Ten of dangerous jobs, falling well behind construction work, forestry, manufacturing, farming, mining, transportation and so on.” ~ Michael Enright, CBC.ca, 15 September 2013 (source)
I read the above statement recently in an online article promoted locally by an outspoken critic of law enforcement.
The timing seemed a bit insensitive, given that a law enforcement officer was recently shot and killed in our area. Funeral arrangements were only recently announced, and may people in law enforcement are mourning and showing their respect for the officer.
The article being promoted was an attempt to erode any positive perceptions the public may have regarding police officers. In doing so, the article implied that police do not deserve to be called heroes or respected because their work isn’t dangerous.
The author of the article goes on to imply that police are poorly trained, incompetent, and a threat to society. He gives an example of 20 police officers in Toronto who shot and killed a teenager with a penknife. His article includes expert opinions, such as this statement by a former Toronto alderman, “The barely concealed contempt for civilian authority by a number of officers manifested itself in their words and attitude in private, and their tone and body language in public.” The police are portrayed as militant anti-social bullies.
What are we to conclude from the article? All police, everywhere, are 100% bad, all the time.
Not surprisingly, the article is getting a lot of mileage in social networks where the anti-police message is popular among disgruntled niche groups of angry anti-establishment and anti-autority anarchy activists.
Pictured here is an image of a motorcycle stunt jumper flying over a fire engine. One could argue that such stunts aren’t dangerous because those performing them don’t get killed.
It’s only because a stunt jumper is trained and protected by safety gear that they survive in their profession.
Police officers, fire fighters, race car drivers, soldiers, and others are in contextually dangerous situations but their training and equipment allow them to survive. This doesn’t mean they aren’t in a dangerous situations.
There are some jobs that offer minimal danger even without special training or protective gear. However, anyone working in law enforcement knows that the safety on the job is almost entirely a function of how well trained they are and how well outfitted they are.
There’s another kind of danger that police face besides being killed, and that is the risk of killing or harming someone without reasonable cause. Poor judgement on the part of a police officer can result in a court finding them guilty of a crime. When police do something good, it shows up on the back pages of the local paper and then collects dust. However, when a police officer screws up, it becomes national news and will get promoted perpetually virally through blogs, social networks, and on YouTube.
Law Enforcement Bigotry
Why would anyone single out people of a certain profession and try to discredit or vilify that entire group?
Such wide-sweeping generalizations about blacks, jews, gays, or other minority groups are typically not tolerated. Yet, when people make bigoted unfounded statements about the police nobody seems to mind.
Like all bigotry, a few anecdotal stories are offered to support the vilification of a certain group. Those who buy into the hatred, soak up any additional data that supports their new found belief system, and ignore anything that challenges their world view.
It seems like just about every week we’re confronted with some new story of police brutality, incompetence, fraud, or other scandal. Most recently it’s been reported that police in North Carolina gunned down an unarmed man who was simply approaching them to request assistance at the scene of an auto accident. (Source: CNN) Another recent incident, in New York City, involved police shooting at an unarmed man in a crowd. They hit innocent bystanders instead. (Source: New York Post) Blended in with current news are reminders of past tragedies, like the story mentioned above of 20 police officers in Toronto who shot and killed a teenager with a penknife.
Let’s say there’s a police-induced tragedy each week. That’s 52 police-related tragedies per year out of about 800,000 officers who are serving. That’s an extremely small number of people making mistakes.* Yet, it’s not the perception we’re left with after following popular media.
Ultimately, we should all do our best to prevent the kind of thinking that demonizes any group of people based on the acts of only a few. Keep that number of 800,000 in mind. Each time you hear of a police officer who’s been convicted of corruption or some other scandal, remember there are another 800,000 good police who are ethically, faithfully, and compassionately serving their communities.
* It is, of course, important to remember that even if the fatalities, injuries, and other harm caused by police are relatively small in number, they are huge to the people who are injured or killed, as well as their families and others directly effected. Compassion should always be extended to those wrongly harmed by those in law enforcement.