National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Does Honesty Kill?

Something interesting caught my eye the other day as I was reading Scott Greenfield’s Simple Justice blog. Apparently, FoxNews ran a piece the other day in which a professor from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice suggested that police are being targeted and that sites like this one are to blame because we discuss the topic of police misconduct.

Now, this was interesting because it made me wonder what empirical evidence this person, a Eugene O’Donnell, had to back up his claim that “an unprecedented level of disrespect and willingness to challenge police officers all over the place.” was to blame for an alleged increase of violence specifically targeting law enforcement.

So, I decided to do the heavy lifting for Mr. O’Donnell and see if his hyperbole had any real factual merit.

Homicide Rates

So far this year, Mr. O’Donnell claims that there has been a 43% increase in line of duty deaths for police officers in the US. But, does this number reflect an actual increased level of violence specifically targeting police?

Well, in 2009, per ODMP.ORG, there were 127 line of duty deaths, of which, 57 of those fatalities could be attributed to an act of violence that specifically targeted a police officer whether by firearms, intentional vehicular assault, or assault.

So far in 2010, there have been 98 line of duty deaths, of which, 28 are attributed to an intentional act of violence against a police officer.

So, in 2009 the homicidal fatality rate for law enforcement officers was an estimated 8.14 deaths per 100,000 law enforcement officers. Currently the homicidal fatality rate is at 4.16 per 100,000 and, if projected to the end of year at the current rate, that homicidal fatality rate for 2010 would potentially be 8.31 per 100,000 law enforcement officers… a 0.17 per 100,000 increase or, roughly, a 2.1% increase.

While an increase, it’s a very slight one which is far less ominous than the 43% increase cited as a cause for alarm.

So, is this 2.1% increase in homicidal fatalities possibly related to an alleged increased availability of reports about police misconduct?

Causality

If what Mr. O’Donnell alleges had any basis in fact we would be able to see a correlation between homicidal fatalities and an increased availability of information about police misconduct. In other words, we would see a notably higher rate of homicidal deaths of police officers in states where police misconduct information was openly available.

But, when we break down the homicidal fatality incidents by state we don’t really see a correlation:

So, what do we see? We see that, of the homicidal fatalities for police officers so far in the US this year:

  • 6 occurred in states with laws that keep police misconduct information open to the public.
  • 10 occurred in states that keep police misconduct information secret.
  • 12 occurred in states that have some limitations on the availability of  police misconduct information.

In fact, when I examined this issue earlier this year, I not only found no correlation between violence against law enforcement officers, but found the opposite may be true, that officers suffer an increased rate of violence in states that keep information about police misconduct a secret than in states where the government is open about incidents of misconduct.

Graph displaying comparison of assault and homicide rates for police officers by state misconduct transparency levels.

Conclusion

So, we see that if we look at the total line of duty deaths we might see an increased fatality rate, but most of that increase appears to be associated with auto accidents, accidental deaths, and fatalities associated with natural causes than with actual homicides. While total deaths may be up over the same period last year, the homicidal death rate increase is a negligible 2.1% from 8.14 per 100,000 to 8.31 per 100,000 (projected).

If we look further into the numbers, we see that there is no real evidence that indicates that any perceived increase is related to an increased amount of information being shared about police misconduct and, in fact, the inverse may be true, that there maybe an increased amount of violence against law enforcement officers in areas where information about police misconduct is kept secret from the public.

Therefore, we’re left to question where Mr. O’Donnell is coming up with the basis of his opinion about violence against police and the causative factors behind this alleged increase. Because, as we can see, the evidence just isn’t in the numbers… or the facts.

At the least, there is no evidence that an honest and transparent discussion about police misconduct puts anyone at risk, but remaining silent about it can.

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