The number of police officers shot and killed last year rose dramatically. So did the number of assaults on cops and the stress under which they work.
That trend ought to concern every American because violence impacts our neighborhoods, schools and where we work and shop. Ask any realtor and they will tell you that safe streets and good schools are top of mind among renters and home buyers.
Officers Down, the group sponsoring the national law enforcement memorial, reported that 140 officers died in the line of duty in 2016. Gunfire claimed 63. Of those fatally shot, 21 were killed in ambush attacks.
Last July 7, a sniper killed five unsuspecting cops and wounded nine others during a peaceful rally against police brutality in Dallas. Less than two weeks later, a lone gunman in Baton Rouge, LA, killed three more and wounded three others outside a convenience store.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported the less noticed are the thousands more officers assaulted each year. FBI statistics show, those attacks, many resulting in serious injuries, increased by 2.5 percent in 2015 surpassing 50,000.
Meanwhile, PBS Newshour indicated the number of people killed by police was slightly down from 991 in 2015. Still, 957 killed is far too many.
“The high-profile shooting of civilians at the hands of police, and police at the hands of civilians, have led to some fierce national soul-searching. That has obscured a routine reality of life on the beat, where the threat of violence is often just behind a door,” WSJ related.
Simply stated, the environment in which cops police today is much more dangerous.
For example, the Chicago Tribune found the number of homicides (mostly involving deadly shootings) in the city rose to 781 last year.
Chicago’s former police superintendent Garry McCarthy told CBS 60 Minutes that police officers feel “under attack” and they increasingly worry about putting themselves and their families in jeopardy.
A retired officer asking to go unnamed said there is a concern no one has an officer’s back today. “I’m not talking about edgy cops, it is the trained individual who has to make split second decisions in situations where lots can go wrong. There are no second chances or instant slow-motion replays. Shooting someone often haunts them the rest of their lives.”
David Thomas, a forensic psychologist who counsels police, told WSJ that job stress, if not released, often changes how an officer interacts with the public (and their families). That stress has to come out someplace and when it does, it can be nasty.
“It (stress) has to impact your judgment and the way you talk to people. It impacts everything you do,” Thomas said.
The danger and stress impacts police recruitment. A decade ago, the Seattle Police Department had 3,000 applicants for 10 openings. Now, there are 1,000 applicants for 70.
Stress also precipitates early retirement and career changes. Portland’s police force of 950 finds that retirements and resignations remove officers faster than the bureau can recruit, hire and train new ones.
There are no simple answers and the problem is getting worse.
Better training will help. So will increased counseling and treatment for those traumatized by an attack or officer involved shootings, but more officers of all genders and ethnic backgrounds are needed.
That will require additional funding for law enforcement, mental health treatment and programs to make our neighborhoods safer.
The bottom line is our nation’s 900,000 cops need our support, deserve our respect and must have the benefit of the doubt. Remember they have to make instant life or death decisions in a matter of split seconds.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.