by Geert Dhondt
Today’s New York Times (January 8, 2015) features an Op-Ed by Steve Osborne, a retired NYPD Officer and author of the forthcoming book, The Job: True Tales From the life of a New York City Cop, explaining why the NYPD rank and file are so mad at Mayor Bill de Blasio. I was excited to read this article. I wanted a better understanding of the view of the police and I was already thinking about ordering the book. But the op-ed is no true tale. The heart of the argument is that being a cop is a dangerous job. Is this really the case?
The “shoot to kill” policy and the use of deadly force by police officers is often justified by the claim that being an officer is a dangerous job. This is why the death of Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham, Kimani Gray, Tamon Robinson, and most likely Akai Gray will not be see as a murder, but instead as an appropriate use of deadly force by the NYPD.
What about the police? Were they also being killed in the streets during those same years?
In the entire year of 2014, four NYPD officers died on duty. Two were murdered in their patrol car, the third was killed in a traffic accident, and the fourth died in a fire. In 2013, zero NYPD officers died on duty. In 2012 six officers died – all of 9/11 related diseases. Keep in mind that the NY police force is larger in number and fire- power than most armies in the world.
Now let’s take a more systematic approach to understanding these numbers through some national data:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 132 million people were employed in 2013, of that total 4,405 died on the job. Job statistics are broken down by the bureau related to different job descriptions and charicterizations. From this we can determine if being a cop is as dangerous as we are made to believe. The figure below shows how many people died on the job in different industries. For Protective Services (includes police, correctional officers, fire fighters, security guards) the death rate is 7.58 per 100,000, for law enforcement officers specefically , the death rate on their “tour of duty” is 7.9 per 100,000. Other major occupational groups, shown below, have much higher death rates. For example, people who work in Transportation (13 per 100,000), Construction and Extractive (16 per 100,000), and Farming, Fishing and Forestry Industries (52 per 100,000). Being a police officer is a comparably much safer job than many others. Remember, these numbers don’t take into consideration that most police officers deaths are because of transportation incidents and not by violence. If you want to have a safe job, don’t work on a farm or in construction, don’t go to work as a logger or a fisherman, become a cop instead.
Deaths on the Job
(Note: Per 100,000. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.)