At the table


Is police work the most dangerous job you can do?

No. You know what is? Construction.

Construction is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, incurring more occupational fatalities than any other sector in both the United States and in the European Union.[27][28] In 2009, the fatal occupational injury rate among construction workers in the United States was nearly three times that for all workers.[27]

Have a table from 2006.

Construction workers are far more at risk than cops are. Maek you think.

Comments

  1. says

    Would law enforcement fall under ‘government’ there? I would presume so, in which case that fatality rate of 2.3 per 100,000 indeed looks quite reasonable. I notice in the report you link, where it goes on to discuss the rates by occupation rather than by industry, protective services (including law enforcement, firefighters, and domestic military) wasn’t even high enough to be featured on the chart of selected high-risk occupations.

  2. iiii says

    I’ve been told that the the actual most dangerous job is prostitution, both in on-the-job injury and on-the-job death. But – what with most of the industry being illegal – it’s hard to get the kind of solid statistics that would verify or contradict that assertion.

  3. Pietia says

    From the data, the most dangerous jobs are in agriculture and so on, not construction. The rate is what matters, not the absolute number of fatalities.

    Doesn’t change your bigger point, of course. Police work is not very dangerous compared to lots of other jobs.

  4. freemage says

    Well, even by that chart, I’d say construction workers have it better than three other categories–the blue bars are really more meaningful than the red ones, for purposes of determining how ‘dangerous’ a job is. But cops barely show up on that rung, either.

    Now, I found a different breakdown that, to me, is even more significant, yet–it tallies fatalities per work-hour, which really emphasizes how much danger you’re in at any given time (so longer hours mean a greater chance of getting killed on the job, but that makes sense just on a straight basis). Cops are a bit higher in this category. Still, they get beaten by lots of other folks:

    Police have a rate of 18.6. Higher fatality-per-hour rates are scored by: farmers, ranchers, roofers, steelworkers, ‘extraction workers’ (which I think means building demolition), electric power line techs, professional drivers (including truckers, but not cabbies), cabbies, pilots & flight engineers, trash collectors, and non-metallic mineral miners/quarry diggers. Loggers and fishermen deaths are so much higher, it’s a tragedy–4 times higher for loggers, 5-6 times higher for fishing crews.

  5. Some Old Programmer says

    freemage @5, my first reaction to ‘extraction workers’ was miners (a notoriosly dangerous job), but if mining is broken out later, my next supposition would be oil extraction.

  6. RJW says

    @9 freemage,

    Yes, the blue bars are more significant statistically. The term “extraction workers” probably refers to workers in the mining industry, which is a relatively dangerous occupation as the chart above indicates.
    The problem is the difference between perceived and statistical probability. Most people would regard law enforcement as a dangerous occupation, and of course police perception of the dangers they face is a significant factor in their relations with the public.

  7. says

    Construction workers are far more at risk than cops are.

    And being a construction worker is a much more moral profession than being a cop. In fact, along with marketing professionals and soldiers, cops have the distinction of engaging in one of the few inherently immoral professions.*

    (* when I use the word “moral” I am speaking only as a matter of opinion, though I can back up my claim to anyone who approximately shares the same sorts of values as I do)

  8. RJW says

    @8 Marcus Ranum,

    “cops have the distinction of engaging in one of the few inherently immoral professions.*

    I’d be really interested in reading your defence of that statement, particularly in regard to the use of the word “inherently”.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    Nice crisp little graphs for some fuzzy numbers.

    Does a Nat’l Forest Service worker count as “ag/forestry/…” or “government”?

    “Education and health workers” – do schools and hospitals really have comparable workplace hazards?

    Mixing in all the clerks and managers in a “government” category tells us approximately nothing about law enforcement actuarials. Where do the multiple thousands of troops brought back from Iraq in boxes in ’06 show up if only 501 “government” employees died on the job that year?

    Trying to re-use data gathered for one purpose for another may work sometimes, but this Bureau of Labor Statistics report seems an odd starting point. I haven’t read all 17 pages, but from pg 1 it seems that it covers only 2006. That year’s figures for coal miners and aviation jumped >100% & 44% respectively due to a few disasters; I suspect the same sorts of fluctuations also occur to law enforcers.

    As for Officer Friendly and Friends,

    Fatalities in protective service occupations increased 6 percent in 2006, led by a rise in fire fighter fatalities (from 28 fatalities in 2005 to 42 in 2006). There were fewer work-related fatalities among law enforcement workers in 2006 as compared to 2005.

    No further specifics about The Thin Blue Line seemed worthy of mention in this summary.

    I have little doubt useful numbers are out there somewhere, but tonight I’m in no mood to track ’em. Merry X, all…

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    Oops, wassailing and stats don’t mix that well. “… multiple thousands…” for crysake.

    I did track the Iraq ’06 US casualty figures: 871 (still 370 more than, apparently, federal/state/municipal employee fatalities combined).

  11. A Masked Avenger says

    I point these stats out to cops, and they merely reply that those deaths are accidental, while cops are murdered (“by thugs”); that cops are running to danger rather than away from it; and that cops are dying in service to others.

    We have a limitless capacity to rationalize why our own sufferings are “different.” Especially if our job involves an IQ ceiling.

  12. david says

    The graph, and report in the link, don’t provide fatality rates for police specifically. Lumping them in with “Government” dilutes the rate. You can find it, at another government site – search “how risky is police work” at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Police fatalities range from 11 – 17 / 100,000 which puts them 3rd or 4th, riskier than construction and just behind transportation (16).

  13. says

    RJW@#9:
    I’d be really interested in reading your defence of that statement, particularly in regard to the use of the word “inherently”.

    I’m not going to try to establish a system of ethics that we can both sign up to, so I’ll do a little bit of hand-waving and avoid offering definitions, if that’s OK with you. As I said before I’m relying on my opinion about right and wrong. But it goes like this…:

    A cop is empowered by the state to enforce laws, potentially violently, on its behalf. Since cops are trained to kill in defense of the law, this confers an additional moral burden on the cop – that they only do violence on behalf of the state in situations where they are sure it is the right thing to do, and that the laws they are enforcing are just, and that they understand them correctly. After all, since the state is an emergent property of its citizens and the faith they place in it* the cop is committed to do violence to the people for their own benefit. That appears to me to be a contradiction, or at least a requirement for a godlike belief in one’s own ability to distinguish right and wrong. But it gets worse than that, since the cop has actually ceded their moral agency to the state – they swear to uphold the law rather than protect the people yet you will not find anyone, cop or civilian, who agrees entirely with the law. That means the cop is inherently acting immorally by swearing to uphold society’s laws even in a situation where members of that society, and likely the cop as well, feel the laws are unjust. If you want to point to cases, we have plenty: does anyone believe that the law that Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner over was a law worth defending to the death? If Pantaleo was a moral person he would have rejected the law and chosen not to enforce it – but if he did that, he would not be being a cop. We see this play itself out even more extremely in cops that, themselves, break the law; they speed, they take drugs, they accept bribes, etc. Lastly, even if you wanted to hypothesize a proverbial “good cop” that always upheld the law – they’d spend most of their time arresting other cops. We don’t see that happening because being a cop is inherently immoral.

    Similar reasoning applies to soldiers: to be a soldier you have to simultaneously cede moral agency to the state, while being prepared to commit the crime of murder in its name. This is not quite critique of the “I was just following orders” retort, but it’s rather that the soldier has placed themselves permanently in moral jeopardy by agreeing to listen to orders that might involve killing, and to participate in an organization of mass murder after swearing away their moral agency. It’s impossible for a soldier to claim ignorance of the implications of putting on a uniform and taking up a gun at the command of the state.

    Richard Feynman once quipped that marketing is (also) an inherently immoral profession because it consists of selling things as being better than you know them to be.

    Anyhow, I hope this helps clarify, somewhat. The tl’dr form is that swearing to do violence to defend an abstraction you do not believe in 100% is discarding one’s moral agency, which is itself an immoral act.

    (* if you’re a social contractarian and believe somewhat in democracy)

  14. says

    I point these stats out to cops, and they merely reply that those deaths are accidental, while cops are murdered (“by thugs”); that cops are running to danger rather than away from it; and that cops are dying in service to others.

    And coal miners, who go down below the earth, in great danger, in mines made more dangerous by cost-cutting capitalists, to collect the resources to keep our society’s lights on: shit on them, cops. Amirite?

  15. John Horstman says

    I very much agree with Marcus Ranum: ideally/theoretically, I would be a great person to be a cop, because I am entirely willing to sacrifice my own safety and well-being to protect and aid other people, but I won’t ever join law enforcement because I refuse to enforce our many unjust laws. My view that ALL cops are inherently engaging in immoral behavior simply by signing up to be cops in the first place is much of why I reject Not All Cops apologetics and “good cop” narratives. In particular, because at least some (and I think many) of our laws are unjust, any defense of a cop as “good” necessarily falls back on the Nuremberg Defense for the cases where they must behave immorally, compelled by the same infrastructure of state violence of which they are part. Further, abuse of power isn’t a bug, it’s a design feature of a police state; you can’t defend the institutional structure of the police state without playing apologetics for its inevitable effects. Decrying “police violence” while defending the existence of the police – who exist for the sole purpose of enacting state-sanctioned violence, at least nominally in defense of the general citizenry – is a hypocritical contradiction, a demand that the state exercise violence but only in one’s own interests, or not to one’s own detriment.

  16. RJW says

    @15 Marcus Ranum,

    Thanks for the detailed reply.

    (1) “…since the cop has actually ceded their moral agency to the state – they swear to uphold the law”

    (2) “That means the cop is inherently acting immorally by swearing to uphold society’s laws even in a situation where members of that society, and likely the cop as well, feel the laws are unjust.”
    I’m not convinced that by enforcing laws that an individual police officer might regard as unjust, he or she is acting immorally, since their oath is to uphold the laws of the state, not to enforce their morality on others. Some members of society might regard a particular law as unjust, however the enforcement of that law is not “inherently unjust”. Consider the special pleading that religious individuals use to justify exemptions for their discriminatory practices.

    (3) “We see this play itself out even more extremely in cops that, themselves, break the law; they speed, they take drugs, they accept bribes, etc.”

    Police corruption or negligence is an entirely different category, it’s determined basically by reference to the laws and regulations of the state, so I can’t see how it supports the ‘inherently immoral” argument.

    (4) “The tl’dr form is that swearing to do violence to defend an abstraction you do not believe in 100% is discarding one’s moral agency, which is itself an immoral act.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by “an abstraction you do not believe in 100%”. Do you mean the state, or some of the laws of the state? I can’t see how when police conscientiously and in compliance with their oath, enforce laws they don’t necessarily agree with, they’re acting immorally.

    (5) “after swearing away their moral agency. ” Soldiers or the police do not swear away their moral agency, in Western liberal democratic societies there are constraints on behavior within the military environment, as with the police.

  17. says

    I’m not convinced that by enforcing laws that an individual police officer might regard as unjust, he or she is acting immorally, since their oath is to uphold the laws of the state, not to enforce their morality on others

    It seems to me to follow that, if you’re enforcing something you don’t believe or agree with – possibly with the threat of force – that that is immoral. If I understand your position correctly, you’re arguing that a contract is a contract and one can enter into a contract to do immoral things, morally.

    Some members of society might regard a particular law as unjust, however the enforcement of that law is not “inherently unjust”.

    Well, and then you used the example of discrimination. Isn’t that inherently unjust?
    The problem is, if the law exists because it is arbitrary (i.e.: not based in the will of the people) then it’s immoral.
    If it’s based on the will of a majority of the people, then it’s also immoral since it’s the majority inflicting their will on the minority.
    If it’s based on unanimous agreement then, why is there even a law? But that’s an edge case.
    Let’s look at the War On Drugs, perhaps, as an example: there are some parts of the country where apparently a majority feels pot should be legal. Does that mean that when President Nixon declared the War On Drugs that he was inflicting his will on the majority? What if it was only 10% of the population that disagreed with him? Isn’t the state violating the social contract at some point?

    Police corruption or negligence is an entirely different category

    It is. It doesn’t argue the “inherently” point, though I do observe a lot of cops see other cops acting immorally and chose to remain cops and not to arrest them. That’s problematic but it doesn’t lead to “inherent” immorality, I agree.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “an abstraction you do not believe in 100%”. Do you mean the state, or some of the laws of the state?

    The laws of the state. It’s soldiers that swear to uphold the state as an abstraction. Cops swear to uphold “the laws” — which are also an abstraction, to them, unless they actually understand them, have studied them in detail, and agree with them.

    I can’t see how when police conscientiously and in compliance with their oath, enforce laws they don’t necessarily agree with, they’re acting immorally.

    Because they’re willing to kill someone who violates a law they don’t even believe in, themselves. They’re not shooting themselves, are they? So, they’re being unfair.

  18. says

    “after swearing away their moral agency. ” Soldiers or the police do not swear away their moral agency, in Western liberal democratic societies there are constraints on behavior within the military environment, as with the police

    The problem is, when you’re part of an organization that can be pushed into collectively doing wrong, your ability to exercise your moral agency is degraded. Anyone going into the military or police should see it coming, and exercise their moral agency before it’s too late – and quit.

    I remember the war crimes briefing from basic training, in 1983. :) The problem is – they still don’t quit. Why is that? Because the state is able to manipulate soldiers by placing them in situations where it seems plausible that they must kill or be killed. It’s how you turn othewise decent people into military aggressors; drop them into the back of some patch of Iraq and then when the locals start shooting (the locals are engaging in self-defense) the soldiers then feel they “have to” shoot their way out.

    I understand the argument that they haven’t given up their agency, but clearly, they have. Because they’re going along with high crimes. The NYPD cops who didn’t arrest the other cop who strangled Eric Garner? They exercised agency, all right — they chose to side with an immoral action. If I were to believe that cops were still moral agents, I’d expect a different reaction; as I’d expect soldiers to put down their guns when told to kill, “hey, I didn’t sign up for this!”

    The fact is, of course, that cops and soldiers are self-selected to be willing and ready to do awful things. It’s an inherently immoral job, and it attracts immoral people to do it.

  19. John Morales says

    John Horstman:

    I would be a great person to be a cop, because I am entirely willing to sacrifice my own safety and well-being to protect and aid other people, but I won’t ever join law enforcement because I refuse to enforce our many unjust laws.

    So basically, your reservation about serving a community by enforcing its laws is that you don’t get to pick and choose which specific laws you undertake to enforce — it’s a package deal. Its nobility is underwhelming, to me, and seems to rely on unacknowledged privilege.

    (Seems less noble when you consider that it’s tantamount to asserting that it’s better to enforce no laws at all than to enforce both just and unjust laws equally; the which leaves aside that how laws are enforced has its own — not inconsiderable — significance)

  20. says

    John Morales:
    your reservation about serving a community by enforcing its laws is that you don’t get to pick and choose which specific laws you undertake to enforce

    Bizzare reactionary attitude from you, there. So you’re saying that a moral cop would enforce, say, laws against blasphemy or homosexuality in a society in which such were the laws?

    t it’s tantamount to asserting that it’s better to enforce no laws at all than to enforce both just and unjust laws equally

    Not at all, my little totalitarian — it’s better to only enforce the laws that you feel are moral, than to enforce just and unjust laws equally. You appear to be playing my ball, here — a cop who is enforcing laws they believe are unjust is not acting morally.

  21. says

    I would not have a problem with a cop who swore “I swear to uphold the laws I feel are just laws, to defend the people’s interest as I understand it, and to consider every situation I encounter on its own merits and to act accordingly always with the welfare of the people in mind.” That’d be a good oath for a good cop to take.

    I would not have a problem with a soldier who swore, “I swear to do my best to defend the nation of which I am a member, because its national interest is mine. I will take up arms to defend my national and personal interests and the rights of my fellow citizens. At all times, if asked to kill, I will consider whether it is a just action taken in defense only, and will not participate in wars of aggression. Whether my government chooses to or not, I will consider myself bound by international humanitarian law and will, at all times, protect the well-being of noncombatants regardless of which side of a conflict they are on.”

    But that’s not what they swear to.

  22. RJW says

    “…. it’s better to only enforce the laws that you feel are moral, than to enforce just and unjust laws equally.”

    So, could I draw the corollary that citizens don’t have an obligation to obey laws they consider unjust, so, for example, men who are members of misogynistic sub-cultures are acting morally if they treat women as chattels? In other words, to what degree do you allow individuals to exercise moral autonomy against the requirements of liberal democracy?

    “..a cop who is enforcing laws they believe are unjust is not acting morally.”

    Not necessarily, the police officer might take the moral stand that enforcing the laws of the state is the greater good.

  23. John Morales says

    Marcus @22:

    t it’s tantamount to asserting that it’s better to enforce no laws at all than to enforce both just and unjust laws equally
    Not at all, my little totalitarian — it’s better to only enforce the laws that you feel are moral, than to enforce just and unjust laws equally.

    But that’s not an option: as you yourself have written, “But that’s not what they swear to.”

    The logic is impeccable — so, yes; yes indeed.

    (Also, totalitarian?!)

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