police are out there risking their lives for you and me. Or are
they really? And what urgent difference does it make to you, your
sisters, your daughters, and friends?
Before reading any further,
try this quick test. Rank the following six occupations according
to their rate of on-the-job fatalities, starting from the most dangerous
to the least dangerous: air pilot, police officer, truck driver,
electrician, construction laborer, gardener (non-farm). Chances
are, if you've ever watched TV, or listened to cops defend their
conduct, or read newspaper editorials supporting the police, or
heard broadcasts of the funeral orations in memory of a slain officer,
or just plain lived on the planet, chances are you flunked the test
Here is the correct ranking
from the U.S. Department of Labor, along with a few other occupations
to give you an idea of the range.
Department of Labor
Occupational Fatalities per 100,000
So the real deal is this,
police officers don't lay their lives on the line any more than
the person who plants the petunias on your patio. The numbers vary
some from year to year, but the ranking of fatality rates remains
basically the same as you see it here.
It's said that you can't
fool all the people all of the time, yet this highly exaggerated
myth of the dangerousness of police work has come pretty close to
doing just that. The entire American public has been bamboozled
with this myth for a very long time. As you can see just from the
abbreviated list of occupations above, many, many other workers,
including many who work in public service, suffer far higher fatality
rates than police. And when, for example, the city gardener dies
on the job serving you, there's no fanfare, no flags flown at half
mast, no five foot flower monuments flown in from near and far.
No motorcycle caravans of gardeners swarming into the funeral from
seven neighboring states. No headlines at the top of the news for
three days running. No city and state officials clamoring for a
place to mourn at the casket.
is it with the police? Their familiar refrains are known in every
town and hamlet of the nation. "Our wives have to worry everyday
whether of not we're going to come home at night." Doesn't the gardener's
spouse have to worry just as much? "We never speak out against another
cop, because we depend on each other for our lives." Don't gardeners
depend on each other when rock walls shift, structures collapse,
or machinery turns rogue? Of course they do, just as much, and as
often, and as life-and-death, as the police.
But different from gardeners,
police have immense powers over people, and too often can misuse
that power to create myths to get more power. Here's a couple of
first thoughts to start the debate as to why this myth of police
dangerousness exists and how it harms our communities.
cultivating a hyper-inflated myth of heros sacrificing their lives
for you, police have created a shield of public veneration to
defend against criticism of any misdeed. Who then can blame police
for building arsenals against the citizens, for firing at first
blink, for mafia-like codes of silence? Who then can refuse police
funding requests for ever more militarized arms?
- The myth of dangerousness
keeps women out of policing, and keeps police power concentrated
in the hands of men. The supposed danger of police work is one
of the main reasons women give for not going into policing. Women
loose out on a great job, and communities lose out on the exceptional
skills women bring to the job, not the least of which is dramatically
lower rates of excessive use of force, and the better communication
skills that de-escalate violence and save lives.
myth of police dangerousness again and again attracts the wrong
kind of people to the job. A hyper male ego is the last thing
that's needed at ground zero on the critical fault lines of society's
problems. And it's the last thing that's needed to handle crimes
of violence against women which accounts for about a third of
all police calls.
- The myth of the dangerousness
of policing keeps police wives scared to death and under control.
How do you get up the nerve to insist that the warrior hero who
faces death around every corner do his share of scrubbing the
many police officers believe this myth themselves, and reach for
the gun at the first blink of an eye, and then later, all can
be explained with the refrain, "Our lives are on the line."
a couple other facts that should be taken into account. The majority
of police on-the-job fatalities are not caused by bad guys shooting
at the cops. The majority if police on-the-job fatalities are cause
by vehicle accidents.
And maybe this next fact
is most pertinent of all to the question of how, and why, and what
difference it makes who society selects for its heros. Although
the Department of Labor doesn't include motherhood as an occupation,
other national studies show that childbearing in the U.S. has a
fatality rate on a par with policing.