A common theme in civil rights cases is officer discretion. Police, we are told, must be allowed to violate our rights because their job is so dangerous. Is policing really that dangerous?
"Of course it is, Mike!" you'll scream at me. Yet you'd be wrong. As thinking people, we must always elevate statistics over sentiment.
Each year a media outlet will produce a list of the most dangerous jobs. Today the Business Insider has the latest data. According to the actual data, policing is substantially less dangerous than crab fishing, logging, iron working, electrical working, and many other professions. See for yourself.
According to the FBI (data here), only 41 police officers were murdered in the line of duty in 2008. "Only?!" Certainly every officer death is a tragedy, yet in 2005 (the most-recent data I could find) were nearly 700,000 police officers.
Most crime rates are measured by incidents-per-100,000: "How many murders are there for every 100,000 people in geographic region," the statistician asks. In San Fransisco in 2008, there were 52 murders. (Data set; scroll down.) San Fransisco has a population of almost 800,000.
Assuming for the sake of argument that we have the same - rather than a greater - number of police officers in 2008 that we had in 2005, consider this: 41 police officers out of 700,000 were murdered. In San Francisco, 52 citizens out of 800,000 were murdered.
Simply living in San Francisco is more dangerous than being a police officer.
Policing is a valuable profession. Who suggests otherwise? I certainly do not going around saying, "F-ck the police."
Elevating the police above all others, however, is destructive to civil society. It is also superstitious. Policing is not nearly as dangerous a profession as defenders of police misconduct claim it to be. Like many jobs, policing has its risk. Policing is not so dangerous, however, that officers who have sworn to uphold law should be able to violate the law with impunity.