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The murder of two NYPD officers, rhetoric and police safety

By Scott Tibbs, December 22, 2014

The assassination of two New York City police officers over the weekend was a shocking incident, and shows the dangers police officers can face. It is important to keep perspective, though, and the response to these murders provides a lesson in how elected officials should and should not behave when a horrific crime like this happens.

First, the response from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's office was despicable and shameful. I became filled with rage when I read the following in this article on the assassinations:

Rawlings-Blake’s deputy chief of staff, Kevin Harris, said the mayor knows there are a few bad apples that have "done some things that do not honor the uniform," and they need to deal with that.

"But the way in which they do that is not to target law enforcement," Harris told Curtis.

This is shameful. Police misconduct is an important issue, but the time to address it is not in the aftermath of a terrorist assassination of two police officers. Harris should be fired from his job for his despicable choice of words and choice to use this atrocity to take a shot at the police. As the chief of staff, Harris should know better, and how damaging his words would be to the working relationship between his boss and the Baltimore police. Rawlings-Blake needs to apologize to the New York Police Department and the families of the murdered officers.

Where we should be careful in condemning words, though, is blaming "anti-police rhetoric" for the murders of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. The only person responsible for the murders is the terrorist Ismaaiyl Brinsley. There has been some reprehensible and irresponsible rhetoric on both sides of this debate, but trying to blame rhetoric for a terrorist act is an unworthy debater's ploy meant to shut down legitimate (if uncomfortable) arguments.

Finally, murders of police are terrible, but we need to avoid overstating the problem. Police officers are safer today than they have been in fifty years. Police fatalities are way down in pure numbers, and when you consider that there are a lot more cops today than 50 years ago they are even safer as a matter of percentages.

From the Washington Post:

According to FBI statistics, 27 police officers were feloniously killed in 2013, the lowest raw number in more than 50 years. (The previous low was 41 in 2008.) If we go by officer homicides as a percentage of active-duty police, it was probably the safest year in a century.

It has not been just a good year. It has been a good couple decades. Police fatalities have been dropping for 20 years to the point that it is safer to be a cop today than it has been since the 1960's - maybe even since World War I. Overstating the danger to police is dangerous, because it encourages and provides political cover for police militarization and aggressive use of force. We should respect the danger and unique challenges police officers face, but that should be grounded in reality and attached to the duty of law enforcement to serve the public and safeguard civil liberties.