Between January 20 and January 25, 13 police officers were shot in the U.S., five of them fatally. Two officers in St. Petersburg, Florida, were killed while trying to arrest a suspect accused of aggravated battery. Two more were killed in Miami while trying to arrest a suspected murderer. An officer in Oregon was seriously wounded and another in Indiana was killed after they were shot during routine traffic stops.
The Indiana assailant had a long and violent criminal record. The suspect in Oregon is still at large. In another incident, four officers were injured in Detroit when a man about to be charged in a murder investigation walked into a police station and opened fire.
Some police advocates have drawn unsupported conclusions from this rash of attacks, claiming that they are tied to rising anti-police sentiment, anti-government protest, or a lack of adequate gun control laws. Media outlets also have been quick to draw connections between these unrelated shootings. While these incidents are tragic, the ensuing alarmism threatens to stifle much-needed debate about police tactics, police misconduct, and police accountability.
Jon Shane, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told NPR the January shootings “follow some bit of a larger trend in the United States,” which he described as an “overriding sense of entitlement and ‘don’t tread on me.'” Craig W. Floyd, chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, told UPI, “It’s a very troubling trend where officers are being put at greater risk than ever before.” The same article summarized the opinions of other police leaders who think the shootings “reflected a broader lack of respect for authority.”
Richard Roberts, spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations, told MSNBC, “It’s not a fluke….There’s a perception among officers in the field that there’s a war on cops going on.” Police critic William Grigg notes that Smith County, Texas, Sheriff J.B. Smith told the NBC station in Tyler, “I think it’s a hundred times more likely today that an officer will be assaulted compared to twenty, thirty years
ago. It has become one of the most hazardous jobs in the United States, undoubtedly—in the top five.”
During his interview with Shane, NPR host Michael Martin linked the shootings to the availability of guns. Salon’s Amy Steinberg concluded “there is a disturbing trend and an increasingly pressing need to revisit the conversation on gun control.”
Dig into most of these articles, however, and you will find there is no real evidence of an increase in anti-police violence, let alone one that can be traced to anti-police rhetoric, gun sales, disrespect for authority, or “don’t tread on me” sentiment.
(CNN is one of the few media outlets that have covered the purported anti-police trend with appropriate skepticism.) Amid all the quotes from concerned law enforcement officials in MSNBC’s “War on Cops” article, for example, is a casual mention that police fatality statistics for this month are about the same as they were in January 2010. Right after suggesting to NPR that the recent attacks were related to anti-government rhetoric, Shane acknowledged there has been little research into the underlying causes of police shootings.