“Times Are Changing” … in the Opposite Way From What Sheriff Rick Whitney Says

Newspaper article from the Wellsville Daily Reporter, December 27 2016

News item, Daily Reporter of Wellsville, NY, December 27 2016:

“Allegany County lawmakers may encourage Washington to make the intentional killing of law enforcement officers, firefighters and medical responders a federal crime. The county Board of Legislators today will consider a resolution asking U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Tom Reed to immediately introduce legislation to make the death penalty mandatory in these cases.”

Unfortunately, times are changing and I am concerned every day that one of my officers will be attacked. We are used to knowing that we may have to respond to an incident where we will be placed in danger, but now, because of the unprovoked attacks and ambushes, we have to watch our backs constantly, even on down time or off duty.” — Allegany County Sheriff Rick Whitney

You’d like to think that proposed legislation to execute people would be based on an actual observable trend. Allegany County Sheriff Rick Whitney proposes a nationwide, automatic, mandatory death penalty on the basis of a claim that “unfortunately, times are changing” so that officers are more likely to die on duty. But is this true?

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund maintains a daily-updated database of police fatalities in the United States, one that goes back many years. Here at the end of 2016, 135 officers have died on duty. This is, of course, a shame. But does this reflect a significant upturn? Let’s look at the actual trend measured by the NLEOMF:

Police Officer Fatalities per Year, from 1900 to 2016

Times do change; that’s what time does. If anything, however, the trend over the last generation is that even as the U.S. population has risen, the annual count of officer fatalities has gone down. We keep hearing that we have entered a “post-truth” era in our national politics. But whether that’s true is really up to us as a people and the aggregated collection of decisions we make. It is not a statement against police officers to note that the number of police officers who die on duty has gone down over recent years, not up. It is not a statement based on truth for a person, be they a Sheriff or anyone else, to imply otherwise.