Is There A 'War On Police'? The Statistics Say No The ambush killing of a sheriff's deputy in Texas has intensified concern in some circles that criticism of police has led to an increase in officer deaths. But the data don't back up that fear.


Is There A 'War On Police'? The Statistics Say No

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Recent murders of law enforcement officers have raised the specter of a new war on cops. Some police and politicians say that criticism of police since the Ferguson protests has inspired more people to target cops. NPR's Martin Kaste reports that if you look at the statistics, they tell a different story.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: When a sheriff's deputy named Darren Goforth was gunned down at a gas station in suburban Houston late last month, the reaction was swift and angry.


DEVON ANDERSON: It is time for the silent majority in this country to support law enforcement.

KASTE: That was the local TV news leading off with the district attorney, Devon Anderson. While she didn't ascribe motive to the suspect, she warned of the dangers of an overly negative public attitude toward the police.


ANDERSON: There are a few bad apples in every profession. That does not mean that there should be open warfare declared on law enforcement.

KASTE: People who see a war on the police point to what happened in 2014. That was the year of the Ferguson protests and new media focus on police misconduct. And that year, the number of police murdered on the job jumped. Nationally, 51 were killed - almost double the number of the year before. Proof of an ominous new trend? Seth Stoughton says no.

SETH STOUGHTON: Well, it's nonsense. It's misleading to compare one year to another year.

KASTE: Stoughton is a former cop who now teaches law at the University of South Carolina, and he's been collecting and analyzing these data going back decades. He says 2014 looked bad in comparison with 2013 mainly because 2013 was so good.

STOUGHTON: Two-thousand-and-thirteen was the safest year for police officers, ever, the safest year in recorded history.

KASTE: When you compare 2014 with other years, it looks pretty normal. The number of cop killings was about the same as 2012 and was actually a lot lower than in 2011. Stoughton says he's not saying that police work isn't dangerous - it certainly is. And he also admits that we may be seeing a few more ambush killings - cops that are attacked just for being cops. But it's hard to isolate motives in these numbers, and he says if there is an uptick in ambushes it's probably in the single digits.

STOUGHTON: When we're talking about 780,000 state and local police officers who are interacting with people on 67 million occasions every year, the increase from five to eight or five to 10, statistically, it doesn't look significant.

KASTE: But statistical analysis is cold comfort to police officers when a colleague's been ambushed. Some officers have been understandably shaken.

This video made the rounds soon after the Texas deputy was killed. It's an officer in Miami, named Lydia Marquez, recording herself in her car.


LYDIA MARQUEZ: When I kiss my children in the morning before I go to work, I don't know if I'm going to be coming back at the end of the day. I don't know, especially nowadays.

KASTE: And Marquez ends her video defiantly with a phrase that's become a rallying cry for many cops since Ferguson.


MARQUEZ: All lives matter, everyone's life matters.

KASTE: All lives matter - it may so noble, but to activists, it sounds like code for something else.

DAUNASIA YANCEY: The way that people use the phrase is in direct opposition to Black Lives Matter.

KASTE: Daunasia Yancey is a prominent member of Black Lives Matter in Boston.

YANCEY: I think that this war on cops rhetoric is just another way to protect police from accountability. What they're facing is not violence, it's accountability.

KASTE: Soon after the murder of Deputy Goforth, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick condemned what he called the negative attitude toward police. When he was accused of using the tragedy to shut down legitimate criticism, Patrick took aim at the media. Here he is on the public radio show Texas Standard, as the host tried to ask him about all the recent videos that show police misconduct.


UNIDENTIFIED HOST: There's a lot of skepticism out there. How do you convince those people?

DAN PATRICK: You know, your type of interview has to stop. You know, when I was asked to do an interview on NPR, I thought to myself, you know, do I really want to do this? They're not in the police officers' corner.

UNIDENTIFIED HOST: How do you mean, sir?

PATRICK: Well, you have to understand this. Yes, there are people in every profession who cross the line and should be fired. Quit focusing on that small percentage of those in law enforcement who have made a mistake.

KASTE: Most cops don't go this far, but lately, they share an uneasy feeling that they're all being judged by the mistakes of a few. Writer Edward Conlon is retired NYPD, and he says when it comes to public opinion, his former colleagues do feel embattled.

EDWARD CONLON: You know, the notion that there is an epidemic of violence by police is just a really hard thing to swallow.

KASTE: And he sees a parallel here. He thinks both sides are guilty of drawing dramatic conclusions from isolated cases.

CONLON: It's not even half right that cops are at war with black America, and it's not even half right that there's a war on cops, in any big or broad sense.

KASTE: But there does seem to be at least one kind of war going on. It's a war of perceptions, and it's driven by competing feelings of grievance. Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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