One thing we hear constantly in defense of police misconduct and brutality is that you have to cut them some slack because they do such a dangerous job. But it turns out that this is a myth. When you look at the actual numbers, being a police officer is not even close to the most dangerous job. Not even in the top ten.
In 2013, out of 900,000 sworn officers, just 100 died from a job-related injury. That’s about 11.1 per 100,000, or a rate of 0.01%.
Policing doesn’t even make it into the top 10 most dangerous American professions. Logging has a fatality rate 11 times higher, at 127.8 per 100,000. Fishing: 117 per 100,000. Pilot/flight engineer: 53.4 per 100,000. It’s twice as dangerous to be a truck driver as a cop—at 22.1 per 100,000.
Another point to bear in mind is that not all officer fatalities are homicides. Out of the 100 deaths in 2013, 31 were shot, 11 were struck by a vehicle, 2 were stabbed, and 1 died in a “bomb-related incident.” Other causes of death were: aircraft accident (1), automobile accident (28), motorcycle accident (4), falling (6), drowning (2), electrocution (1), and job-related illness (13).
Even assuming that half these deaths were homicides, policing would have a murder rate of 5.55 per 100,000, comparable to the average murder rate of U.S. cities: 5.6 per 100,000. It’s more dangerous to live in Baltimore (35.01 murders per 100,000 residents) than to be a cop in 2014.
Can it be a difficult job? Of course. But it isn’t a particularly dangerous job. And as I’ve argued for years, we should hold those we entrust with such enormous power even more accountable for their actions than the average person. They are given high-powered weapons, the ability to destroy someone’s life and the authority to kill. They are entrusted to enforce the law. If they break the law and violate someone’s rights, the penalties should be stiff.