Article by Jim Glennon for Calibre Press
The New York Times, who touts themselves as the “paper of record,” published a story titled, “Despite Uproar Over Floyd’s Death, the Number of Fatal Encounters with Police Hasn’t Changed.”
The premise of the article can be found in the subtitle, “George Floyd’s murder set in motion shock waves that touched almost every aspect of American society. But on the core issues of police violence and accountability, very little is different.”
The insinuation throughout the piece is that this nation’s police officers fatally shoot – unjustifiably – an outrageous number of people each and every year. A number so egregious that it proves the entire system is corrupt, overtly racist, and criminally violent.
The intimation is that this wholesale criminal behavior is pervasive in every one of the estimated 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country. It’s woven into the DNA of the profession and infiltrates the souls of its members. In their minds, this obvious and observable criminality continues despite the spotlight on the problem because, systemically, there is no accountability and racist violence is encouraged and endorsed.
Now to the Washington Post, whose motto is, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” which I interpret as they believe light need be shined on the truth.
So, let’s help them find it.
In 2015 the Post started tracking every single fatal police shooting in the country. This endeavor is perpetual and constantly updated. It can be found on their website under the title, Fatal Force.
Why did they initiate this effort? Because there are no federal databases that track each fatal shooting by anyone in law enforcement. So, they decided to do it in order to support their hypothesis, which is, the numbers to be found would be outrageously high definitively proving that the police are out of control when it comes to shooting and killing people. This data would then be revealed to the public.
Media Bias and a Lack of Critical Thinking
What did a search of the data actually reveal? What was found in that darkness? What are the two papers respective perspectives of that raw data? And, are those perspectives skewed by their demonstrated anti-police bias?
Let’s consider the numbers.
Between January 1, 2015, through the end of 2021, on average 987 people were shot and killed by police officers in the United States annually.
Nine hundred and eighty-seven.
Both the NY Times and the Washington POST find that number to be prima facie evidence of a pervasive problem of violence, very often motivated by rampant racism throughout the profession.
But is it?
Is 987 people being shot and killed annually, in and of itself, an alarmingly high and unjustifiable number? Is 987 a shock to the conscience and conclusive evidence that wholesale systemic changes need be made across the 18,000 law enforcement agencies?
We find at least two obvious problems with both paper’s hypothesized problem with law enforcement.
The first, their interpretation of the 987 number.
In the aggregate, 987 is a quantity with no context. Little relative and contextual data is considered concerning the number.
Critical thinking requires questions concerning multiples of variables. Such as:
— How did 987 come to be?
— What were the details of each of those individual shootings?
— What were the behaviors of each of those 987 people who were shot?
— What type of calls?
— How many of those 987 were in possession of a deadly weapon?
— How many of those 987 threatened either the police or another person before being shot?
— How many were shot after repeated warnings to comply or drop a weapon?
— How many were resisting arrest?
— What time did each happen?
— How many times did officers have the legal right to shoot and didn’t?
— What is the percentage of the number of people shot and killed compared with actual police citizen/contacts?
— Was there a pattern of shootings across the 18,000 agencies?
— Was there a pattern among the 800,000 to one million people employed with arrest and force powers across the profession on all levels, local, county, state, tribal, and federal?
— Were the locations city, rural, high crime, low crime, etc.?
— How many were truly illegal, unjustifiable shootings?
— What would be an acceptable number?
The second concern we have with the media’s hypothesis involves their perception of the public’s perception of law enforcement.
What percentage of the general public has any idea at all how many people are shot and killed by the police every year?
Do they consider context?
Polls suggest very, very few do. In fact, some polls find that when asked to estimate how many people the police shoot and kill every year many people overestimate by tens of thousands.
Primarily the exaggerated hype pushed by those with multiple media platforms.
Celebrities, such as Lebron James, cable news anchors and many politicians, who should know better, rail on and on about criminal police violence. Scores literally denounce all in the profession as racist murderers. Don Lemon on CNN described police shootings as “Mass murder over the years.” He said that on a split screen with Jimmy Fallon who shook his head in solemn agreement.
Why would their audiences doubt them?
For many, to challenge these assertions is to put their careers at risk. Therefore, the characterizations of police as remorseless racist murderers goes unchecked and becomes an accepted fact. The science is settled, so let’s move on and eliminate the police and/or completely overhaul the system.
But to what end?
What number would be acceptable?
Several years ago, a producer for a major cable news channel wanted to talk to me about what she described as the “epidemic of police violence” perpetrated on the populace of the United States. I told her that I would talk to her if she could explain to me why it was an epidemic and if she could tell me how many people are shot and killed by the police every year.
She told me that the numbers were “hidden” but if she had to guess her number would be 50,000 annually.
Knowing the real number, I asked her what number would be acceptable. She replied that one is one too many.
Hard to argue with that (il)logic.
So, I told her that in 2016 the number was actually 957 according to the Washington Post. I don’t think she really liked hearing that as she changed the subject mentioning that 957 was almost 1,000 and that seemed high to her.
But “seemed high” based on what?
So, I brought out some statistics. After I presented them to her, she discontinued our conversation and I never heard from her again.
Here are the stats I gave her.
According to the FBI in 2015, the police had approximately 53.5 million contacts with people in the country. I believe that number is drastically low by the way and I can prove it, but that is for another article. But if we use the 53.5 million for 2016 and the 957 number as those shot and killed, then the percentage of people the police shot that they had contact with was approximately: 0.00178879%.
Let’s round that up to 0.0018%.
Is that a number that indicates an epidemic?
A number that requires a complete overhaul of the entire profession across 18,000 agencies?
By contrast, the CDC addressed the concerns of people afraid to take the Covid vaccines. (Full disclosure, I’m vaccinated and boostered.) They were trying to show, by sharing the statistical percentages, that the vaccines are safe.
From the CDC: “Reports of serious side effects are exceedingly rare. More than 363 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the U.S. from December 14, 2020 through August 23, 2021. During this time, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) received 6,968 reports of death (0.0019%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine.”
The CDC contends that 0.0019% as a chance of death from a vaccine is, statistically, negligible. Therefore, the CDC finds no reason to change course and will continue to advocate for everyone to take the shot. No need to make wholesale systemic changes in an attempt to lower that number as the number is statistically at least, essentially zero.
So, let’s compare those percentages and perspectives for staying the course for the vaccine policy but calling for wholesale changes to the police profession: 0.0018% deaths at the hand of police via firearms vs. 0.0019% deaths at the hands of those putting vaccines in human bodies.
I didn’t use the vaccine number for any other reason than this.
Many, many of the same people who are advocating for everyone to get vaccinated (and again, I am) because the deaths from the vaccine are an infinitesimal 0.0019% are the same who demonize the police profession because they believe that 0.0018% is incontrovertible evidence that the police have a violence problem.
The bottom line is that the police profession, like every component of government, has its problems. Problems that need fixing. But avoiding reality, refusing to look at the science and research, stats, facts, context and the necessary multiple variables present in police shootings prevents the problems that do exist from being addressed.
Cops are retiring early or flat out quitting at rates never seen in the history of American law enforcement. Some are leaving large departments in the most violent cities to join smaller departments that pay better and have populations that openly support their police.
Recruitment is suffering and the police agencies that desperately need the most help are struggling to replace officers. Seriously struggling.
Uncontested characterizations of all in law enforcement as mechanisms of a systemically and overtly racist and violent profession only results in more cops quitting, less joining the ranks, record deaths of citizens at the hands of criminals and more violence perpetrated on the innocent.
Frankly, I’ve given up on expecting some of the most famous cop haters to make a turnaround. They will never admit their bias and actually make an effort to honestly examine the realities of the profession.
So, that leaves the turnaround to the average citizen.
Before it’s too late. And for thousands, victims of record murders, it already is.
What do YOU think? We want to know! E-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.