Is It Dangerous to Be a Police Officer?

I have always thought so, and the danger of the job is a large reason why police get so many special privileges, from outsized pensions to minuscule accountability for people they shoot or kill.

But police are not among the top most dangerous professions -- they are not even in the top 10.  Being a taxi driver is more dangerous ( and in fact for 2015 the #1 cause of death on the job was traffic accidents).  We don't fetishize garbage collectors like we do police but they die on the job at twice the rate as do police.

In fact, the rate at which police are killed by gun violence is not substantially higher than for the average citizen.  In 2015 there were 39 firearms deaths of police (from the source above).  Given the way that firearms stats are reported broadly, these are probably not all killings by other people (some police likely are killed by accidental discharge, etc).  But assuming they are all gun killings, and assuming about 900,000 police (I get a broad range of estimates for this seemingly simple number) gives a rate of 4.3 per 100,000 per year, not much higher than the US gun homicide death number of 3.55 (you may have seen much higher numbers of gun death numbers -- over 2/3 of these are suicides).

Postscript:  The current media model is breaking the Internet.  I have seen the chart a ton of times on the most dangerous professions, so I searched for it.  Do it yourself.  The first 8 or 9 links all turn out to be the stupid new media format of requiring 10 clicks to get through a list.  I simply refuse to ever click on these things.  It is a horrible way to present information.  I suggest you boycott them as well.

  • ErikTheRed

    It's probably more dangerous to talk about how it's more dangerous to be a police officer.

  • Paul Ralley
  • Daddybob

    The sites require ten clicks to get through a list so they can run ten times as many ads.

  • ErikTheRed

    "The first 8 or 9 links all turn out to be the stupid new media format of requiring 10 clicks to get through a list."

    Yeah, South Park hit that pretty hard this season...

  • morganovich

    to avoid slideshows:

    http://deslide.clusterfake.net/

    this deslidifies them.

  • morganovich

    the biggest killer of police officers is heart disease.

    they are more likely to be killed by a doughnut than a perp.

  • HenryBowman419

    Mark Perry's blog post entitled Is there really a ‘war on cops’? provides a couple of nice plots, mostly related to deaths of cops by firearms (I think the leading cause of on-the-job cop deaths remains vehicle accidents, but I could be wrong). Things are pretty safe now for cops, but during Prohibition things seem to have been much, much worse.

  • Tom Lindmark

    Certainly one of the reasons police get outsized pensions is the inherent danger but they also bargained for these pensions years ago when police work was not nearly as remunerative as it is now. This is generally true of most civil servants' pensions and other benefits. They were meant to plug the gap in pay. As the tables have turned and civil servants now often command salaries in excess of what similar jobs pay in the private sector, the outsized benefit packages have not vanished but have become a non-negotiable item in union negotiations. At least non-negotiable until the money runs out.

  • kidmugsy

    "the rate at which police are killed by gun violence is not substantially higher than for the average citizen." Well, if you get to shoot first on little or no provocation, it's not too surprising that it's the other guy who dies.

  • Tom Lindmark

    So they should wait until a bullet zips by their head before returning fire?

  • ErikEssig

    "in fact for 2015 the #1 cause of death on the job was traffic accidents"
    Not surprising to anyone that pays attention to how many of them drive.

  • Seekingfactsforsanity

    Police are charged with responsibilities that constantly put them in situations where someone is likely to get killed or seriously injured than the average worker. Training and survival instincts are always on their mind. Consequently, someone can make your observation "that the rate at which police are killed by gun violence IS NOT SUBSTANTIALLY HIGHER (but higher?) than for the average citizen." An officer's daily path leads them THROUGH "HARMS WAY", and if they are not extremely careful and cautious, the path takes them directly THROUGH the door of "DEATH OR SEVERE INJURY".

  • Fred_Z

    I don't understand the point of your comment or why you are shouting at us in all caps.

    Everything you say about a police officer being aware of and forced to deal with risk applies to loggers, fishermen and so on, but even more so. A logger will fell dozens of dangerous trees a day.

    Most police officer rarely face risk - they and their unions just talk about it a lot.

  • Nehemiah

    Apples and oranges. Police officers shot dead in the line of duty are dead because of another person's illegal action. A logger or fisherman, killed while working, is more likely to have died due to personal carelessness or negligence and occasionally faulty equipment.

    A more equivalent analysis might consider bank tellers or convenience store clerks killed during robberies versus cops killed.

  • Not Sure

    "Police are charged with responsibilities that constantly put them in situations where someone is likely to get killed or seriously injured compared with the average worker."

    No, they're not more likely to be killed or seriously injured. The risk of death for workers in many other occupations is higher than it is for police officers.

  • Fred_Z

    Disagree. The deaths are both caused by a mix of bad luck and poor risk assessment.

  • http://abriefhistory.org MichaelKennedy

    Some complain about my ad blocker and I instantly leave,

  • Not Sure

    And then, there's this...

    "A DeKalb County police officer was critically injured, a homeowner injured and dog killed in a shooting Monday night. Three officers were responding to a report of suspicious person, but instead went to the wrong home in the 1500 block of Boulderwoods Drive, near Bouldercrest Road, Cedric Alexander, director of public safety, said late Monday."

    Any chance you might want to reconsider your initial claim that "Police officers shot dead in the line of duty are dead because of another person's illegal action"?

  • markm

    They should at least be SURE that the other guy IS intending to put up a fight. "His cell-phone looked like it might be a gun" should not be an acceptable excuse. "I accidentally fired my gun" should be grounds for a manslaughter prosecution and several years in prison, just like it would be for any citizen who put a finger on the trigger while pointing his gun at someone he did not have a good reason to shoot.

  • Seekingfactsforsanity

    I have always found it funny that people like to pretend they are being shouted at when caps are used. But maybe I should use italics for emphasis. Hope your feelings were not hurt.
    Well, at least those dangerous fish and trees don't go looking for trouble, get high on drugs, get crazy violent, or shoot guns at the loggers/fishermen.

  • slocum

    Oh, public union benefits are certainly negotiable. The problem is that in too many cases, the politicians on the 'other side' of the bargaining table owe their election, in part, to the support of the union they're negotiating with. So it's sweetheart deals forever (until everything finally comes crashing down).

  • David in Michigan

    Police work is not particularly dangerous... though not risk free... in certain areas. These kinds of areas include rural, semi-rural, and many suburban geographical areas of the U.S. In other areas, I.e., some suburban and most urban areas, it is dangerous. You know this to be true and yet you pretend that all things are equal. Have you offered shallow thinking or ideology?

  • Danimal15

    Agree about those new media 10-click sites, We should all boycott them. They're just selling ads. Nothing of value to offer.

  • An_A_C

    In the same vein, the most common gunshot wounds sustained by police are foot and leg wounds. (yes, pun intended)

  • http://www.martinelliinvestigations.com/home Martinelli Private Eye

    I am surprised to learn that a police officer is not in the list of top ten dangerous jobs. As there are less dangerous areas of the country, the brave men and women keeping our more violent communities safe may deserve a closer evaluation.