Let’s Get Some Good Numbers On Police Use Of Lethal Force And Then Figure Out What To Do.

Tuesday night Street Thug got a big roar out of the Crowd in Jacksonville when he said that he would make America “safe” for the cops. Now I was always under the impression that the cops were supposed to make America safe, but obviously the shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge have changed all that. Or at least changed it in the minds of the crowd that showed up to chant about building a wall in front of their beloved Mister Trump.

cops           How bad is the problem of cops getting killed on the job?  According to the FBI, 51 police were feloniously killed in 2014, of whom 46 lost their lives to assaults involving guns. After Dallas and Baton Rouge, the number of cops shot to death this year jumped to 37; last year at this point only 20 officers had lost their lives to gunfire. But 2015 was an exceptionally safe year; in fact in 2011 there were 73 fatal law enforcement gun deaths, in 2010 it was 60 police gun deaths. Notwithstanding recent events, the number of cops getting shot has been drifting downward over the last ten years.

I wish I could say the same thing about civilians who are shot by cops.  This number appears to be going up.  According to the CDC, which tracks gun deaths attributed to the actions of law enforcement as ‘legal intervention,’ the average yearly toll between 2005 and 2009 was 340, from 2010 through 2014 the yearly average was 440 – a yearly increase of 30%! The CDC data also shows that over the last ten years, African-Americans were 26% of the toll of legal interventions, which happens to be twice the percentage of African-Americans in the population as a whole.

So what we have when we look at the trends of gun violence involving police is that the number of cops getting shot on the job, this year’s tragic events notwithstanding, has been going down, the number of civilians shot by cops has been going up. Meanwhile, police deaths from accidents, which along with shootings comprises more than 95% of all on-the-job police mortality, have also been declining, the result of better training.  So what’s up with guns?

Not only can’t I answer that question, but I’m not sure that the numbers produced by the FBI or the CDC on police use of lethal force bear any resemblance to reality at all.  And if they don’t, then how can we even begin to talk about what needs to be done, or should be done, to bring this situation under control.  Street Thug can scream out from today to next year that under his rule cops will be protected and safe.  But you can take that statement about as seriously as you can take anything else he says, except when he admits that he was always looking for an ‘easy’ way to be awarded a Purple Heart.

According to our friends at the Gun Violence Archive, 168 people were shot and killed by police between June 25 and August 3 of this year.  That’s more than 4 a day.  At that rate, the yearly total of cop shootings would come to more than 1,460.  Is that possible?  Can the number of people killed by cops amount to three times the number given by the CDC? Not only is it possible – it’s probable because The Washington Post also tracks police shootings through media reports and says that the 2016 number is up to 564.  Another online tracker says the number stands at 690 for this year.

I’ll be the first person to say that police deserve all our support.  But supporting the men and women in blue is one thing, dealing properly with the issue of aggravated assaults by cops is something else.  And if we don’t even know the scope of the problem, how are we going to deal with it at all?

 

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Doesn’t The 2nd Amendment Give You The Right To Defend Yourself Even If You Are Defending Yourself From The Police?

Last week it was Dallas; this week it’s Baton Rouge. The ambush of law-enforcement officers by a deranged individual acting out of God knows what kind of motive is becoming commonplace, and has finally given Don Trump a campaign issue that even he shouldn’t be able to screw up.

2A           But where is Gun-nut Nation in all this?  If you check the news stories and commentaries on the NRA-ILA website, the latest postings consist of the weekly anti-Hillary rant, a nasty dig at Shannon Watts and the announcement that NRA chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, will help fill in the Cleveland Convention program with a speech that will remind the audience that ”for voters who believe in their constitutional freedoms, the choice in this Presidential election is clear.”

But what constitutional freedoms is Chris Cox talking about?  Oops – I forgot. The NRA claims to be America’s oldest civil rights organization.  By defending the 2nd Amendment, the boys in Fairfax are defending all our freedoms, because the whole point of the 2nd Amendment, in case you’ve forgotten, is to let you keep and use your gun to defend yourself, not just against predators and street criminals, but against a ‘tyrannical’ government whose power and authority, left unchecked, would take all your liberties away.

Now what I just said isn’t some kind of crazy, right-wing paranoid fantasy that the NRA has concocted to keep alive the images from Tiananmen Square.  In fact, the idea that the 2nd Amendment represents protection from the excesses of government was most forcefully stated by a liberal constitutional scholar, Sanford Levinson, who published a 1989 article in which he admonished liberals for not giving the 2nd Amendment its proper respect since the notion that government might behave in a tyrannical way was counter to liberal, big-government beliefs.

Had Levinson been an ideological conservative, his article would probably have been dismissed out of hand. But the fact that he was, and still is a noted liberal authority on constitutional law turned his argument into a red-meat screed with which the NRA and the right-wing noise machine panders to the Mob every day.  And since Hillary represents government tyranny to the nth degree, she’s against 2nd Amendment ‘rights’ which threatens all freedoms, not just the freedom to own a gun.  Okay, got it?

So why is the NRA being so silent about the shootings of cops in Dallas and Baton Rouge?  First, because the shooters in both cases were military veterans (one of the NRA’s most prized constituencies, so they think) who used legally-purchased guns. And while we can quibble over whether or not the AK-74 used in Dallas is an assault weapon or not, both guns were designed to kill lots of people as quickly as possible. Yet thanks to the NRA, such guns can be owned by every ‘law-abiding’ gun guy whether he intends to shoot other people or not.

But behind the refusal/reluctance of the NRA to open up on the issue of assault rifles lurks a much more vexing issue that Gun-nut Nation would rather not face.  Because if government wanted to behave tyrannically, wouldn’t this behavior be represented first and foremost by the actions of the police? And if a cop pulls out a gun and shoots an unarmed guy who was reaching for his driver’s license, since the cop represents government, wouldn’t Philando Castile have been within his 2-Amendment rights to protect himself with his gun?

Please understand: I am as pro-cop as anyone can be.  I always give the men and women in blue every conceivable break. So this is in no way an attempt to justify the shooting of police.  But if Gun-nut Nation really wants the 2nd Amendment to mean that we can use guns against government force, then the argument cuts both ways.  What’s law and order to one person might be an exercise in government tyranny to someone else.  And both these folks have the right to protect themselves (and others) with a gun, right?

How Many People Get Shot By Cops? A Lot More Than You Think.

If you want to get a handle on the numbers involved in gun violence, you can go to two sources: the CDC or the FBI.  The numbers aggregated by the CDC come from coroner’s reports received by state health departments and then forwarded, analyzed and presented on the CDC website WISQARS, which tracks fatal and non-fatal injuries since 1999 and 2001, respectively. The other method is to use the crime data from the FBI, whose numbers begin in 1960 but become state-based beginning in 1985.

The data in these two reports is, to put it politely, somewhat diffuse.  Take one year for example, in this case 2005.  According to the FBI, 16,740 people were victims of murder or manslaughter, the CDC listed the total number of homicides as 18,124.  This 10% difference between the two numbers is more or less the same for every year in which both agencies report their numbers, and it reflects both different definitions (one is reporting medical events, the other reporting crimes) and both numbers are estimates reflecting the fact that state and local agencies which report the raw totals are not necessarily required to report anything at all.

Where things really get crazy is when we look at CDC and FBI numbers for what is referred to as homicide by ‘legal intervention,’ which is a polite way of saying that someone got shot by a cop.  In 2010, to choose a different year for comparison, the FBI put this number at 397; for the CDC it was 412.  For the years 2010 – 2014, the FBI says that 2,142 people were killed by law enforcement, the CDC number is 2,485.  So now we have a gap between the two estimates of nearly 15%, but that’s not even scratching the veritable surface when it comes to figuring out what’s what.

I was tipped off to this problem by a story in MedScape that focused on the research of a group at the Harvard School of Public Health who have been looking at the data on cop killings since 1960. They recently published an op-ed on this problem citing an enormous discrepancy between the ‘official’ numbers on legal intervention deaths and what is now being reported by, of all media outlets, The Guardian, which happens to be a newspaper published in the U.K. The reason I find this interesting is because cop killings in England are so rare that in 2013, police in the U.K. only shot off their duty weapons three times and, by the way, didn’t kill anyone at all.

The Guardian has created a website, The Counted, which has been collecting and publishing stories about legal interventions since 2015, and I have to tell you that the numbers are frighteningly higher than anything posted by the CDC or the FBI. In 2015 the site lists 1,140 persons killed by the police, so far in 2016 the number has reached 136.  At this rate the total for 2016 will only be 1,013, a 10% decrease from last year, but still more than twice as high as what we get from our usual sources at the FBI or the CDC. Actually, my friends at the Gun Violence Archive also post a daily count on what they call “officer involved shootings,’ and so far this year their death toll stands at 145.

I’ll leave the two aggregators to figure out whose number is more exact, but the bottom line is that cop killings are much higher than what is usually assumed to be the case, and they occur most frequently in African-American ghetto neighborhoods – gee, what a surprise! The problem with the data found in the Guardian’s website, however, is that it is very incomplete. Try filtering for any attribute – race, age, gender, weapon – the numbers fall way short. Deriving stories from media notices is one thing, aggregating objective data is something else. If public health researchers want to get their hands on real data they better be prepared to wait, and wait, and wait.

 

Is There A Difference Between Cops Who Shoot And Cops Who Get Shot? I’m Not Sure.

Ever since Ferguson, it seems like there’s a nasty story every day about a cop shooting someone who shouldn’t have necessarily ended up in the line of fire and gotten killed.  Actually, according to Harper’s Magazine, an average of 2.6 people have been killed every day this year by police gunfire, which totals almost 600 this year, compared to 461 civilians killed by police in all of 2013.

cop shot                The seriousness of civilians getting shot by cops goes far beyond the numbers.  The perception is growing that it’s not just a lack of training that is reflected by these grim statistics but a surge of racism which has always been the elephant in the living room when it comes to relations between minorities and the police.

We don’t yet have numbers on 2014 police shootings but from 1980 through 2014, the average number of cops killed by civilians was 64 per year.  The 2013 total of 27 was the lowest recorded over that entire span, it jumped back up to 51 in 2014 but the unofficial number of police officers shot this year stands at 20 so far, which at that rate will bring us to a significantly reduced toll in 2015 when compared to last year.  So shootings by police are up by 30% this year and the number of cops shot and killed is down this year by about the same degree.  What’s going on?

It would be tempting to say that the reason for so many more police shootings is that so many bad guys are walking around with guns.  But since the data on police shootings doesn’t reveal whether the victim possessed a gun or was actually using the gun when the incident occurred, we can’t say for sure that police have become more ‘trigger-happy’ because they find themselves facing more guns.  On the other hand, when police are killed in what the FBI refers to as ‘felonious events,’ the perpetrator is almost always found to have carried and used a gun.

Is there a chance that we may be looking at the issue of police shootings in a way which hides more than it reveals?  Just because someone clips a shield onto their shirt, we tend to believe that with training, cops will somehow behave differently from non-cops when it comes to how and when they use their guns.  I’m not so sure.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the FBI report on the 51 cops who were feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2014. Of that total, 11 were killed while they were answering disturbance calls, another 10 were gunned down during traffic stops, 8 more were ambushed and 6 were investigating ‘suspicious’ persons.  The remainder died during random police activities which turned violent because either a mentally-ill person got out of control or someone being arrested for some charge got angry and one way or another let fly.

If you take the shield away from the officer and look at these incidents as simply two armed persons going up against one another, it would be pretty hard to distinguish between these 51 gun homicides in which the victims were cops and the thousands of gun homicides each year where the only real difference between the victim and the perpetrator is that the perpetrator shot first.  And what makes me feel somewhat sure of what I just said is a new report which shows that cops in states with high levels of gun ownership are three times as likely to be killed in the line of duty as cops who serve in states which have fewer civilian-owned guns.

Despite the NRA-sanctioned nonsense about how good guys with guns protect us from bad guys, the same states that have high levels of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun crime.  When it comes to gun violence, I don’t care if someone’s wearing a shield or not, the evidence is clear: too many goddamn guns, period.  Too many guns.

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