Blue Lives Matter: How The Media Gets the Story Wrong
So it has come to this. Somewhere, both of my grandfathers are turning over in the graves. I can hear one of my grandfathers asking me now, “So let me get this straight. You had to pass a law that makes it a worse crime to attack a cop. I thought it was given to respect the police,” I am talking about a recently passed law in Louisiana, HB 953. Similar laws are being debated in several others states, and by the U.S. Congress. The Louisiana law has been dubbed “The Blue Lives Matter Bill,” by politicians and the media. The law passed via a unanimous vote by the Louisiana legislature and makes public safety workers a protected class under hate crimes laws, and attacks on them will carry enhanced penalties. I am not going to argue support for the new law. Maybe the law is needed, and maybe it is not. Those arguments are best made in another venue. But I do want to draw attention to how the media continually gets this story wrong. Here’s how.
LEOKA: A Hasty Generalization
One recent Huffington Post headline says it all. The headline read: “FBI Confirms 2015 Was One of the Safest Years Ever for Cops”. This headline follows a similar misleading pattern from HuffPo. A similar December 28, 2015 headline read “This Was One Of The Safest Years Ever For Police, So Let’s Put That ‘War On Cops’ Thing To Rest”.
We can go back further to January 15, 2015 to another misleading headline from the HuffPo: “Police Work Isn’t as Dangerous as You May Think.” Late last year, the left leaning American Enterprise Institute, or AEI, released an article titled “Is there really a ‘war on cops’? The data show that 2015 will likely be one of the safest years in history for police”.
Even Tavis Smiley from CNN and USA Today chimed in on June 5, 2016: “ Blue Lives Matter. But should cops be given hate crime protections?. In it he says, “ FBI data show that last year was one of the safest for police in more than a decade.”
So what did the above authors use for the conclusions? Did they ride around with police officers from various jurisdictions to get a good sense of what it is really like to be police officer in 2016? Did they respond to calls for service, and get a sense of what it is like to respond to an Unknown Situation: Woman Screaming for Help, or to an Aggravated Domestic call?
No, they only used statistics from the FBIs Uniform Crime Report, or UCR. The UCR has been around since 1930s, and every officer is ultimately familiar with the UCR. The UCR compiles crime statistics from over 18,000 law enforcement agencies around the country.
A lot of the UCR and its reporting requirements and rules are a mystery to me. Officers who have received a call from their records division saying that the Credit Card Larceny you responded to last week and reported as a 23 was actually a Credit Card Fraud, and should be reported as 26B, know what I am talking about!
Or the email from records saying you forgot to check the Cargo Theft box on that Domestic Assault report. What does a Cargo Theft have to do with a Domestic Assault? It happens to me frequently. “Just fix the report! I know it doesn’t makes any sense, ” my Sgt says to me all the time. An explanation of the complexity and sometimes hilarious rules of the UCR are best left to another venue. But relevant to this discussion is the LEOKA part of the UCR.
LEOKA, or Law Enforcement Officers Killed or Assaulted is a portion of the UCR that complies statistics related to how many Police Officers are killed or wounded every year in job related incidents. I see the LEOKA box every time I write a police report, and every time I see it I say a little prayer that no one ever has to click the LEOKA box for me.
Members of the media used the LEOKA portion of the UCR to argue that law enforcement is safer now than it has ever been. According to the UCR, 41 Police Officers lost their lives in the line of duty in 2015. This was a decrease from 51 in 2014. The media took these numbers and made a hasty generalization. A hasty generalization is a statistical term and is commonly defined as making a hasty conclusion without considering all of the variables (X is true for A, X is true for B, therefore X is true for C).
I am clearly not a statistician, and my close friends and family know how bad I am with math. But I do remember a few things from my required college statistics classes. I knew the mistake the media was making as soon as I began reading these stories. Somewhere my college statistics professor is smiling.
According to iCasualties.org , in 2007, there were 904 U.S. military fatalities in Iraq. In 2016 there were 7. In 2010, in Afghanistan there were 499 U.S. military fatalities. In 2016, there were 3. Judging by these statistics alone, does it mean that it is safer to be member of the U.S. military serving in either country? I think the answer is clear: No! Just ask any member of the military that has served and they will tell you that both Iraq and Afghanistan are still very dangerous places to serve.
U.S. traffic fatalities, especially DUI related fatalities have been steadily decreasing over the past several years. According to Responsibility.org, for the past 2 decades, overall drunk driving fatalities have declined by 36%, and under 21 drunk driving fatalities have declined 63%. So does that mean that drunk driving is still not a problem on our roads? Under the logic of the above authors, if we simply use the numbers of those killed the answer is no.
But we clearly all know that drunk driving is still a problem, and more could be done. There is an officer on my department that averages one DUI arrest a shift. So impaired and intoxicated drivers are still on the roadways and it is still a problem. The above DUI statistics only tell part of the story. No one can sensibly say that DUI and alcohol impaired driving is not a problem anymore simply because less people are dying on our roadways due to intoxicated drivers.
So why would members of the media use the LEOKA statistic to say that policing is not dangerous anymore? I wish I knew the answer. Some would say that it is because members of the media lean left and traditionally are not pro-police. Others might say they are pushing an agenda. Maybe that is true to some degree but I won’t go there.
I would argue that policing is still as dangerous as ever. And I think most cops would agree. It is true that America has seen a downward trend of violent crime over the past decade or so, and the number of officers killed has declined too. There have been arguments and counter-arguments as to why. Some say it was President Clinton’s and the Republican lead Congress’s 1994 crime bill that put extra police offices on the street. Others gives different reasons. I say it is probably a combination of several factors.
But here is what I do know. Officers are still killed in the line of duty in this country. It is still a dangerous job. Just ask the fellow officers, friends and families of Ashley Guindon, Zachary Larnerd, or any of the 46 police officers killed this year in the line of duty. Ask them if it is still a dangerous job. I think we all know that answer to that question.