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Study Illuminates The Way Cops Die In The Line Of Duty

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Study Illuminates The Way Cops Die In The Line Of Duty

A Dallas police sergeant wears a mourning band on his badge during a prayer vigil in a park following the multiple police shooting in Dallas. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Slow down, buckle up and take special care around fighting family members.

Sounds like wisdom a parent might bestow. But, in layman’s terms, those are the recommendations of a new study of law enforcement deaths while on duty.

In short, police will be more likely to return home safely after their shifts if more of them wear seat belts, take more care when racing to high-priority calls, wear their issued body armor and remember that calls involving domestic disturbances are often the most dangerous.

The release of the report by the U.S. Justice Department is well timed. It provides a striking counterbalance to a lot of rhetoric of late that aims to compel the public to choose sides between protecting blue lives and black lives — as if we can’t do both.

The report, “Deadly Calls and Fatal Encounters,” was being finalized as the nation reeled from the July ambush murders of five police officers in Dallas, followed by three more officers shot and killed by yet another deranged man in Baton Rouge, La.

Those murders understandably piqued fears for the lives of law enforcement. But some advocates of “law and order” have overreached, falsely accusing the Black Lives Matter movement of stoking violence against police.

There are tensions between citizens and police in low-income communities across the nation where homicide rates are high and police presence is heavy. But they have existed for years. That’s the point. The protests – even the most outrageous ones that brought vandalism, looting and police lines being pelted with bottles and rocks — weren’t the result of one incident. They are the result of cumulative outrage.

And it’s patently unfair to decide that the many voices involved in the Black Lives Matter movement — and they are widely varied — can be blamed for all of the dangers to law enforcement.

The report illustrates that many of the fatal dangers for police are not easily categorized. The report emphasizes that “no call is routine,” and complacency can result in an officer’s death. But there is much that can be done to alleviate their risks.

Analyzing 684 deaths of officers between 2010 and 2014, the report dug deep into the circumstances, finding parallels in the types of calls, what information was available to officers and how they responded.

Traffic accidents took the most police lives by far, accounting for 272 deaths. When police officers were shot and killed, most often it was in dealing with a domestic dispute. Often police officers died when answering calls alone, not waiting for backup or when pertinent information about the suspect being armed was not relayed to them. That finding calls for better training, coordination with dispatch operators and changes to the ways information is disseminated by radio, tablets and computers in patrol cars.

Ninety-one officers were killed while responding to a call for service, such as 911. Forty-one died in self-initiated calls, including cases where an officer made an investigatory traffic stop. An additional 134 officers were shot while not responding to a call. Those deaths included officers being ambushed in unprovoked attacks and those killed while serving a warrant, during tactical operations or while doing follow-up investigations.

Interestingly, semi-automatic weapons aren’t the firearms that most often take officer’s lives. In 71 percent of the cases studied, the officers died by a handgun. That makes sense. Handguns are popular in many an American home, which relates back to the domestic disturbance-related deaths. Yet in 21 percent of the deaths studied, officers were shot by high-powered rifles, leading to recommendations for body armor and possibly ballistic panels for patrol cars.

When it comes to shootings of police officers or by them, we’re increasingly being fed polarizing narratives: the police as prejudiced and above the law vs. the police as heroes with targets on their backs.

Reality is much more complex, and to come to grips with it we need access to the facts. Better data exist for cases in which officers killed in the line of duty than for cases of officers shooting civilians. The FBI is the clearinghouse for the latter cases, but law enforcement agencies don’t always report up the line.

As much as people like to argue that their feelings and perspectives matter, facts will bring us together to solve the problems of police violence. Better data, and reports that take the time to drill down into those data, are necessary. It’s the only way to spot problems and correct them.

After all, the goal of a civil society ought to be for citizen and officer to return safely to their homes at night.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at msanchez@kcstar.com.)

Photo: A Dallas police sergeant wears a mourning band on his badge during a prayer vigil in a park following the multiple police shooting in Dallas. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Mary Sanchez

Mary Sanchez has spent years covering immigration, schools, and other volatile beats for The Kansas City Star. She is now an editorial columnist for the Star, where she continues to offer insightful commentary on immigration, culture, and politics.

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  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth August 6, 2016

    The widening gap between the police and the black community is but a reflection of the gap that we’ve imposed on ourselves due to the false premise of the “Inequality of Humanity” as first expostulated, elaborated on in great detail by those Modern Humans who migrated into what is called Europe from “our” original point of descent on the east-side by south-side of Africa.
    The divergence in skin color and facial features resulted and informed the new sensibilities of the human family that migrated into Europe that in turn compelled them to arrive at false conclusions about the nature of humanity as a result of re-encountering their “cousins” starting around the time of Herodotus’ encounters with peoples south of Greece on the continent of departure, Africa. Arab explorers such as Ibn Batuta(sp?) from Morocco, whose immediate ancestors there had also undergone a change in skin color, facial features, clothing, and customs, noticed the same phenomena but didn’t feel as strong an urge to forge philosophies intent on exalting himself over those who looked different as his counterpart explorers in Europe had begun to do several generations later.

    The explanations for the divergence by early Afro-European scholars and thinkers such as Thomas Malthus, Locke, Hume, etc. has led to the false dichotomies insofar as being human like black/white, European/non-European, rich/poor, and so on.

    The police, by and large being products of a society bent on preserving and amplifying these divisive perceptions, approach the black communities already having been indoctrinated since childhood and immersed in a “sea” of prejudice and fear engendered by such a false premise. Misguided individuals, such as Rudy Giuliani, and other conservatives have developed such a rabid nature when it comes to the subject of race that because of their positions in society they’ve injected a venom into the body-politic that only serves to increase tensions and toxicity in social discourse and in the actions/reactions of many police departments across the nation. And then, there are members of the black community such as Ben Carson who has an unusual morbidity to the poison of racialism/racism that he is confused about his place in society and what he should say or not say.

    No amount of legislation will completely solve this problem; no legal punishment will remove this cancer; no lofty speeches or sermons motivated by a finite human experience and a superficial understanding of the nature of the root of the ailment will suffice. The limited measures will ameliorate the situation and provide temporary relief, but the cancer of racism buried deep in the heart and mind, will simply go into remission, only to await favorable circumstances to arise from dormancy to an aggressive form.

    The GOP has been carefully maintaining and nurturing this “garden of hate, bigotry”, and Trump is adding fertilizer to the “crop”, and the weeds of bigotry and racism are flourishing to the point of being a bumper crop. But the crop only leads to death, both in terms of physical bodies and of the soul.

    I hesitate to repeat what has often been cited, but I feel it a duty to inform us once again of the “bridge” that will allow us to cross the chasm from an existence of darkness over to the side that beckons with light.
    The citation, when reflected on, shows the illusion we currently suffer under, and the way to start dispelling the cloud. This citation is not some random lofty insight but something originating from a mush higher reference point.

    Hidden Word #68(From the Arabic Section)

    “O Children of Men! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance, it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory. ”

    (Source—“The Hidden Words” by Baha’u’llah)

    The 153 “gems” from this work(about half in Arabic, and the other portion in Persian) were written by Him while He was a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire and as a result of the machination of the Muslim clergy in Iran. This epigram and the others were penned by Him as He walked along the Tigris-Euphrates river near Baghdad during the first leg of His exile from Tehran. This was during the “dawn” of His impending formal announcement which was made in 1863 in the garden of Ridvan.

    Incidentally, Jesus Christ had the fishermen near Him cast their nets into the sea of Galilee one early morning, and they retrieved 153 fish as described in the New Testament.
    Perhaps, the number 153 is a mere coincidence; or maybe, a portent. But what do I know. The abjad reckoning(numerical value of letters) of the Arabic word Baha’ is “9”.
    (also, maybe it’s merely a coincidence that 1+5+3 is nine. But we need to be cautious with numerology and not over-emphasize their significance).

    Just my musings.

    1. Oddworld August 6, 2016

      Aaron, I hope you remembered to breath
      while writing your comment:-) Seriously though I do agree with what your saying. I’ve noticed much of your comment seemed to be centered around bigotry and racism. You mentioned our body-politic which I believe is a good place to start. Our laws, economics and cultural polarization are shaped by the body-politic. When combined, these elements have robbed the dignity of a great portion of society regardless of race, ethnicity and religion. We often hear it said that people are our greatest resource, although that maxim is meant to make us feel valuable I find it to be dehumanizing. The religion you follow has a beautiful
      message but it would take too long for
      a significant amount of the world to live by it.< Hopefully one day perhaps we'll find ourselves there. In the meantime we'll have to find more immediate solutions.

      1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth August 6, 2016

        Thank you, and yes, I do need to remember to breathe(SMILE).
        As Ralph Kramden of “The Honeymooners” would say, ‘you’re a riot, Oddworld.(Another SMILE).

        Let’s consider your remark implying that it would take too long to adopt the spiritual change required, there would be no Baha’is if they waited until they felt they were ready to be Baha’is.

        In high school when my dad first introduced me to the Baha’i Faith growing up as a black youth in Jackson. Miss. in the 60’s, I met a group of people who dared to flaunt the Jim Crow rules of no mixing of races in public meetings. Not only did black and white Baha’is meet together regularly in a store front rented space near downtown Jackson, but down the street the neighbors were white; not only would the white and black Baha’is meet in that space at least every 19 days, but afterwards, they would go out to eat in the segregated section of downtown Jackson. One of the younger Baha’is at the time(he was in his 20’s) recounted how his workmates invited him to go to lunch at a restaurant that had a big sign above the restaurant stating in bright bold letters “FOR WHITES ONLY”. Mike said that he refused to go to the restaurant because of the signage.
        Abdu’l Baha, during his visit to America, wished to stay in a hotel in NYC. Some in his entourage were black. Management told Abdu’l Baha that his black guests wouldn’t be accommodated, to which Abdu’l Baha rebuked the management and refused to check in.

        Never wait to become a Baha’i, as my dad and I didn’t hesitate, nor did the Baha’is shy away from the strictures of Jim Crow. The power to change is a part of being human—it only takes a conscious effort to look within to find that strength and flexibility, while not yielding in the face of difficulty.

        OK, I’m breathing now—peace!!

    2. Ruthbjames August 7, 2016

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