Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Police Officers Killed and Statistics

The headline says:  Gun deaths for U.S. officers rose by 56% in 2014.

What gets buried is that the number is up from 2013 -- which, it turns out, was a low point.  Overall deaths from all causes -- not just shootings -- in 2013 (102) were the fewest since 1944 (91).

The 2014 numbers regressed toward the mean.

Any time a police officer, or any citizen, is murdered that is a bad thing.  The problem I have is that the headline feeds the perception that police are operating in a war zone and are being gunned down daily.

Over at American Thinker, Jeff Lipkes lists some of the 47 officers shot to death in 2014, including the particularly unfortunate case of Officer Charles Dinwiddie:

Then there was the case of Officer Charles Dinwiddie, shot by Marvin Louis Guy.  Dinwiddie was a member of a SWAT team that was breaking into Guy’s home at 5:30 a.m. to serve a warrant.  No drugs were found.  Guy, defending his home and family from intruders, he believed, is not the type of African-American male of any interest to the media, though he is now facing the death penalty.  As libertarians have pointed out, SWAT units were not originally established to conduct drug raids, especially ones based on the dubious tip of one informant.   

There are a very large number of sworn and armed law officers in the United States -- somewhere around 850,000 or 900,000.  It suppose it depends on the definition.  That includes federal agents which number about 120,000, I think.  There are over one million people employed by state and local law enforcement agencies, but only around three-quarters of a million are sworn.

Let's just take 800,000 and round 47 to 48, so we are talking about 6 deaths per 100,000.  One per 100,000, one per 1,000,000, is too many.  But these things happen.  There are bad people out there.

Overall, in 2013, the murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate for the United States was 4.5 per 100,000.  A police officer is roughly 30% more likely -- overall -- to be murdered than I am.  The fact is that my county cops and I are all pretty safe, though the state-specific numbers show that Missouri was above the average at 6.1.

Take a look at "FBI -- Table 4" for yourself.

Oddly enough, the "whiter" and more sparsely populated states like Iowa, Idaho, North Dakota, and South Dakota, tend to have lower than average murder rates.  Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield, with significant non-white populations, contribute to the above-average rate in Missouri.  In the rural, white-trash areas of Missouri, we have the scourge of meth manufacture and addiction.  That, too, adds to the number of murders.

There tend to be more police officers in higher-crime, urban, non-white areas; therefore, one might not be entirely surprised to see police subject to a higher rate of homicide. 

Keep in mind, as well, that smaller populations will be more statistically volatile than larger ones.  One example brings tears to my eyes.  There was a huge spike in the number of cops killed in the line of duty in 2001 -- because of  those NYPD officers who ran up the steps of the World Trade Center one fateful day.   

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