Mimesis Law
21 March 2019

Cops And The Dangerous Job

Jan. 19, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — They brought it on themselves, by constantly hyping what a dangerous job it is. The problem is it doesn’t make the top ten. And if you really want to get into the weeds, of the 83 police officers who died in the line of duty in 2015, 19 died in automobile collisions, 13 of heart attacks and 3 of 9/11-related illness.

That cops aren’t dying isn’t merely fortuitous. It’s the First Rule of Policing in action, that police officers will not suffer the risk of harm if it can be avoided. If that means shoot first and often, even before there is any basis to believe an actual threat to their safety exists, and they kill an unarmed person who poses no real threat because they feared the possibility of harm, so be it. Better innocent people be killed than a cop be harmed.

So yes, they brought it on themselves that at any possible opportunity, someone is going to point out that being a cop just isn’t all that dangerous. Certainly nowhere near as dangerous as cops want people to believe.

Yet, this fact is very different from a point that is true. As Ken Womble explains:

And it is an inherently dangerous job. I have been guilty of using the “logging is more dangerous than policing” stat. It is true, but it misses a vital point. Loggers are not injured or killed because some random tree pulled out a gun and shot them. It matters. Every time a logger dies, it is a tragic accident. You can’t say that about police. Police probably die by murder more per capita than any other profession.

Being an “inherently dangerous job” is not at all the same as being one of the most dangerous jobs. The compulsive need of some to point to loggers and scream, “see?!? Logging is more dangerous, and you don’t see them shooting unarmed people,” missed the point. This is an entirely different concept, and it’s time to stop the foolish conflation of the two.

The job of police officer includes facing people who commit crimes, are violent, are inclined to do harm. The job of logger, though far more dangerous in fact, does not demand that loggers stare down armed trees.

As Greg Prickett described, a police officer is the only occupation whose job it is to drive to the sound of gunfire.

Sometimes we focus so much on these bad officers that we forget the good officers. Most officers fit into this category. These officers run to the sound of gunfire, go into dangerous buildings, and put themselves in between the general public and evil. They do so willingly.

Some times you get there, sometimes you don’t. But every single time you go. It doesn’t matter what you think about the call, someone needs help, so you go.

To the extent there’s an issue to be raised with Greg’s characterization, it’s that this is the way police should do their job, but not the way they always do. This is the superficial good cop/bad cop distinction, and that cops don’t always fulfill their mission turns people cynical. On a deeper level, one might question whether they run toward danger, but then allow fear and the First Rule to compel them to shoot the first guy they see rather than risk harm.

But the point remains that danger is part of the police officers’ job description, and giving credit to the police with the recognition that they engage in many thousands of interactions every day that don’t result in wrongdoing, abuse or anyone being harmed, it can’t be reasonably said that they aren’t doing their jobs.

And that is the point. It’s not hard to blame a cop for not wanting to end his shift in a body bag. Anyone who would suggest that a cop has a duty to take a bullet is nuts. No one wants to die on the job. Then again, why anyone would want to be a logger or drive a taxi is fairly hard to explain.

There is much to criticize and question about the faithful performance of duty by police officers, and whether they are too quick to shoot, too happy to sacrifice your life for theirs. These are not only fair questions, but questions that should be asked. And included is the skepticism raised by invoking the “dangerous job” trope to justify why their lives should matter more than anyone else’s. Of course their lives matter. So does everyone else’s life. Just as much.

But it does not help to dismiss the fact that the job of a police officer, at least when done properly, includes inherent danger. We want them to run toward the sound of gunfire. We want them to be brave and willing to face potential harm, even if they don’t ultimately get harmed all that often. That’s a part of the job, and we want that to be the case.

While the job of cop may not be anywhere near as dangerous as they want us to believe, so we will adore and appreciate their bravery, and give them greater latitude to protect themselves than the facts warrant, the excesses of one claim should not diminish the truth of another.

It’s a dangerous job. It’s a job where danger is an inherent part of the description. These are distinct concepts, and we need to stop the crazy conflation so we can address what they do wrong with greater accuracy and truthfulness than they do by appealing to our emotions with a lie.

6 Comments on this post.

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  • Scott Jacobs
    19 January 2016 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    “Anyone who would suggest that a cop has a duty to take a bullet is nuts.”

    Then I must be completely insane, because when given the option of “cop risks a bullet and a civilian doesn’t get shot” vs “cop shoots a civilian because possibly the other person might hurt them, maybe” I’m actually going to opt for the former every single time, if only because at some point I might be the civilian in that equation, and I didn’t choose the dangerous occupation of my own free will.

    • Chris Broekhof
      19 January 2016 at 11:03 pm - Reply

      Nobody in this world is obligated to die for you, nor because of you. It should be the job of the police not to let things come to this, and when it does their actions shouldn’t be overblown. Because the two options you offer are a false dichotomy. Police shooting unarmed citizens don’t need to be doing it, and they won’t get shot. But sometimes they do deal with people willing to shoot them if they don’t act first, or they fail at deescalating a situation, and a police officer who takes the shot doesn’t protect society, let alone a single innocent person. There is a moderate middle ground where police aren’t overly suspicious of the most mundane things, and we don’t expect people not making millions to take a bullet or two for the team.

      So please, don’t replace their insanity with your’s. Because I highly doubt you’ll be anywhere near the line to be one of the people willing to take a bullet, nor anyone else.

    • Bruce
      20 January 2016 at 8:03 am - Reply

      What is the response time for a cop to get to you if you are confronted with a armed and obviously dangerous criminal?

      Your opting to allow another citizen to be shot by a jittery cop who will shoot first, and there are plenty of examples, vs. taking his chances and not kill a innocent is repugnant and anti-liberty.

      Your attitude enables the notion that a cop must go home at night at any cost where as a innocent citizen may go home at night, depending on the circumstances, that is likely set by that jittery cop is repugnant and anti-liberty.

      “Better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer” – English jurist William Blackstone.

  • dino
    19 January 2016 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    I agree with Scott Jacobs, in a free society, which we are supposed to be, we should accept the deaths of 100 cops in the circumstance Mr. Jacobs lays out before we accept the death of 1 unarmed non-threatening civilian. #sorrynotsorry #fuckthepolice

  • Red Herrings & Cop Apologetics | RHDefense: The Law Office of Rick Horowitz (559) 233-8886
    20 January 2016 at 12:00 am - Reply

    […] dangerous for them. Scott Greenfield, who writes half the blog posts on the Internet these days,1 has his article. The words are easy to read; figuring out what he’s saying, perhaps not so […]

  • Dawgzy
    20 January 2016 at 12:26 am - Reply

    “Dangerous Jobs” is defined by deaths per 100k. There are non-lethal dangers that cops face. They have to deal with calls to deal with aggressive ,agitated or psychotic citizens who too often are uncooperative, resistive or even assaultive when a cop deals in a lawful, measured way with misconduct. I wonder whether there are any valid measures of non-lethal injury to police in the performance of their duties broken down by seriousness of injury. Somehow this has to be factored into how police evaluate the risks they face.
    I work on inpatient psychiatric wards as an RN. One of the very best colleagues that I have worked with had been a big city cop. He was just the sort of person you’d want policing your community. But in the course of helping to control and arrest someone, he herniated a disk, was physically unable to perform and he became a mental health type, now working in addictions. (Anecdote does not=data, I know.)
    Though this is somewhat off topic, it’s analogous. One of the most interesting trends that I’ve seen in the course of my 30+ years is the reduction of the incidence of physically restrictive measures (restraint, seclusion, forced medication) used on psychiatric inpatients. I worked for 17 years in a county facility that is notorious for the amount of aggression imported into the hospital from a community with very high rates of violent crime. We had weapons screened out, but dealt with many patients who put staff members at considerable risk. (One staff member was killed by a patient soon after I left.) There was an ethic of “I’m not going home injured,” in a dialectic with ” I know that there are risks and this is the job that I’ve chosen.” There were patterns of casual abuse of authority similar to that seen with police. There were expectations of instant compliance from too many staff, and sometimes if they were not met, the goon squad got called in. For a lot of reasons abusive and needlessly restrictive practices trended down there. I hope that the trend has continued. The reasons for the change are another story, but have to do with agencies that affect our pursestrings forcing the issue over decades, in addition to internal forces, myself included. I resented dealing with the pressuring agencies, but that pressure led to improvement.
    Forgive the long comment, but let me say further that I am glad that there are police in the streets of my city. I am at the same time outraged with our PD’s record of killing unarmed citizens and at the lack of consequences for too many PD homicides. I want cops on the street who can operate competently with a reasonable certainty that they will go home alive and unharmed. Of course, that’s too much to expect. But if the job is perceived as cops lives being expendable, we will be selecting for warrior types who are inclined to shoot first. How do we recruit and retain good people to do the dangerous job? If you have to deal with the police, who do you want it to be?