Police roundup

  • Attitudes on law enforcement now function as culture war rallying point and vehicle of identity politics on both sides [Dara Lind] Good news on officer safety: “Line of duty deaths this year approached a 50-year low” [Ed Krayewski]
  • SWAT deployment and police militarization — in rural Western Massachusetts [Seth Kershner, Valley Advocate] Trump still wrong on this issue [Eric Boehm]
  • Would it be easier to address America’s high rate of fatal shootings by police if the focus were allowed to slip off race for a moment? [Conor Friedersdorf]
  • Neighborhood police checkpoints employed in West Baltimore for several days in November, yet in 2009 DC Circuit, via conservative Judge Sentelle, found them unconstitutional [Colin Campbell and Talia Richman, Baltimore Sun; Elizabeth Janney, Patch]
  • What should be done to address rising crime rates? Federalist Society convention panel video with Dr. John S. Baker, Jr., Heather Childs, Adam Gelb, Hon. Michael Mukasey, George J. Terwilliger III, moderated by Hon. David Stras;
  • In Collins v. Virginia, Supreme Court has opportunity to reaffirm that home is truly castle against police search [Cato Daily Podcast with Jay Schweikert and Caleb Brown]


  • Policing unions have forwarded the image of policing being terribly hazardous.
    But according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, it barely cracks the top twenty, with on the job fatality falling between electrical power line workers and cement, lime and gypsum manufacturing.
    Loggers and fishers, 10 times the fatality rate. Pilots and roofers 5 times.
    Indeed, the homicide rate in St. Louis exceeds the homicide rate of St. Louis police. Merely being a plain old citizen is more dangerous than ‘putting your life on the line’ policing.

    • These have never seemed terribly strong arguments.

      1. Anyone who has spent five minutes out into the middle of the ocean during an ice storm, or cutting down humongous trees on the side of a mountain will immediately realize these are intrinsically perilous activities of the “holy f***, what am I doing?” sort. The monetary incentives to push safety, along with the lack of standardized training, make them even more so. But that doesn’t tell us anything, really, about how dangerous riding patrol or serving warrants are.

      2. By statistical measures, commercial drivers are more likely to get killed in the job than professional racers and their crew. It, however, seems like a stretch to say that the former — where the risks are easily mitigated by naps and not speeding — is more dangerous than the former.

      In other words, that a group is good at not dying doesn’t mean the activity isn’t inherently very risky, or that the measures taken to avoid death are unnecessary. But, by all means, try to reason with the knife-wielding schizo by yourself since, statistically speaking, it’s safer than trimming your own hedges.

  • “Would it be easier to address America’s high rate of fatal shootings by police if the focus were allowed to slip off race for a moment?”

    Yes and no.

    Yes, it will be easier once you convince upstanding, law abiding, white people to see themselves as potential victims of police abuse. However, that in itself will not be easy. They can’t see themselves on the receiving end of police attention. That’s an issue for minorities, poor white trash, and anti-government nuts like Bundy.

    • What is the evidence that there really is a high rate of fatal shootings by police in the US? What percentage of these shootings were unwarranted?

      • Unfortunately no official information exists. Police departments don’t track or report officer involved shootings with any kind of reliability.

        Both The Guardian and Washington Post have attempted to track police shootings over the course of a year. Both came up with around 2K fatal police shootings in one year.

        Compare this to the less than 50 police officers that are killed each year by felonious means and it seems more than just a bit out of proportion.

        • MattS is mostly right, though the number is ~1,000 per year, not 2,000.

          The best estimates from police agencies self-reporting to federal statisticians had been, before the Guardian and WaPo crowdsourced the information, about 400. The feds changed policy after they released their data that continued the 400ish number in the same year as the media reports showed. It appears egg on an agency’s face got results.

          As far as the warranted shootings, it’s hard to say. As someone who spent years researching police misconduct, I can tell you that police are very tight-lipped about officer-involved shootings, and moreso when the shoot was indefensible. They tend to be quick with damning information–like video of the person shot shooting a gun or commiting some other crime–but typically very slow to release information that is damning to the officer’s credibility, if they release it at all. Often, it takes years of litigation to get that information.

          Needless to say, this is not a tenable situation when the police refuse to be accountable for their actions.

          Beyond that, the law allows officers an INCREDIBLE amount of leeway of when they can use lethal force. It’s a terrible precedent that makes some shootings “justified,” but very often unnecessary. Too many unarmed people are shot every year and while they may be “justified,” they could hardly be deemed necessary. they aren’t the majority of people shot and killed by police, but there are too many of them, and some others who are armed (particularly with items other than firearms) are certainly killed uneccesarily as well.

          Conor is a friend, but I don’t think ‘rate’ is the right way to frame this. The rate must be relative to something, and the sheer number of people police kill is far too many. Some undoubtedly are fully justified and even necessary, but so often it’s an officer who pulled the trigger before he needed to, and often after he unnecessarily escalated a situation into a confrontation.

          • You’re right. The number of people killed by police without cause is too high.

            One would be too high.

            However, the same thing applies to police. The number of police killed in the line of duty is too high.

            One would be too high.

            The problem is cyclical. There is a police shooting and citizens get up in arms and some person takes a shot at police and so the police become more hyper-agitated and more likely to shoot and people react with violence and aggressive tactics which results in the police pushing back which results in mobs anytime there is an arrest of someone which results in…..

            It goes round and round and round spiraling out of control. Each “side” using numbers and deaths to try and justify their actions while painting the other as evil.

            Someone – some group – has to break the cycle but even then, will they be allowed to do so? Why is it that we tend to condemn all cops for the bad acts of a few? Why is it that we condemn whole swaths and whole cities of people for the bad acts of a few?

            We can gather data all we want (and I am for the gathering of that data). But will data actually make a difference to the perceptions of people?

            Not in my experience.

            So the question is “how do we change the dynamic?”

          • “So the question is “how do we change the dynamic?””

            Individual police officers must face real consequences, possibly career ending consequences, when they make mistakes that end in dead bodies.

  • I can see it. Every time I see an article about dogs getting shot by police casually going to a home for something, I fear for my five. After all, if they will shoot a 9 lb puppy, a old deaf half blind 30 lb pug doesn’t have a chance. And the rescued wiemaraner and picked up from the side of the road retriever would probably seem like the hounds of hell to an officer of the law. They would probably think they time warped back twenty million years if they run across one of our free range turkeys. But I swear I thought it was a tyranasaur or something like that…

  • […] Neighborhood police checkpoints employed in West Baltimore for several days in November, yet in 2009 DC Circuit, via conservative Judge Sentelle, found them unconstitutional [Colin Campbell and Talia Richman, Baltimore Sun; Elizabeth Janney, Patch; cross-posted from Overlawyered] […]