Police have been at the forefront of national attention for the past year. Between the call of attention to deaths of unarmed citizens at the hands of police officers to brutality during protests to a fractured relationship with local officials to the tragic shootings of officers, the police have been constantly in the headlines.
Last week, two plainclothes New York City police officers, Andrew Dossi and Aliro Pellerano, were shot in the Bronx while investigating an armed robbery at a grocery store. This comes shortly after the shootings in December, when officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were killed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, allegedly as revenge for the death of Eric Garner, who died in Staten Island, New York, after a police officer put him in a chokehold.
The deaths of officers Liu and Ramos in conjunction with the recent shooting have brought attention to the other side of the story. For long, we’ve been focused on how many unarmed citizens have been killed by police, but these deaths have led us to question if conditions are worse for officers as well.
Shooting deaths declining
According to data from the Officer Down Memorial Page, police officer deaths in the line of duty have been declining in over the past 40 years. In 2014, there were 47 officer deaths as the result of a shooting (non-accidental). Compare that 1973, when there were 144 gunfire deaths. Mother Jones points out that officers are better protected and are not being attacked as often — assaults on cops are down 45% since their peak in 1971, and violent crime in general in the U.S. has fallen by nearly half since 1991.
“If we look at the rate of deaths, 2013 was the safest year for police in well over a century. At the current pace, we can expect to see a 17 percent increase in on the job law enforcement fatalities this year over last year. That would put the total number of police officers who die on the job this year at 117, making 2014 the second safest year for cops in terms of raw fatalities since 1959,” Radley Balko wrote for the Washington Post in October. “You’re more likely to be murdered simply by living in about half of the largest cities in America than you are while working as a police officer.”
‘Certain people … need to have their backs’
Despite the numbers, the recent officer shootings and the media surrounding them — as well as the ongoing conversation about citizen deaths at the hands of police — tensions have risen for police officers. NYPD officers have taken to turning their back on the city’s mayor in response to his comments regarding racial profiling regarding his son and for not supporting police enough in light of the protests that have been raging in the past few months since the death of Eric Garner. A large number of the officers at the funeral of Officer Wenjian Liu turned their backs on de Blasio when he rose to speak at the funeral.
“We might be reaching a tipping point with the mind-set of officers, who are beginning to wonder if the risks they take to keep communities safe are even worth it anymore,” Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke said to the Washington Post. “In New York and other places, we’re seeing a natural recoil from law enforcement officers who don’t feel like certain people who need to have their backs have their backs.”