Are police shortages threatening your safety?

Police forces in the United States are constantly under fire — literally and figuratively. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), there’s at least one law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty in the United States every 61 hours. Based on a press release by the NLEOMF, 135 officers died in the line of duty in 2016. 

How increasing violence, stagnant wages, decreasing confidence and negative media narratives are threatening your safety

Increasing Violence

Since 2014, we’ve witnessed a steady increase in line-of-duty, officer-involved deaths.

  • 2014: 122 deaths; +13
  • 2015: 123 deaths; +1
  • 2016: 135 deaths; +12
  • 2017: 27 deaths (+1 vs this time in 2016)

If the United States continues on its current pace of line-of-duty deaths, it would be the 2nd longest streak of increases in officer-involved deaths in our history. As it stands, this is only the 4th time that we’ve experienced at least three years of positive increases in line-of-duty deaths. The others:

  • 1900-1902: 241 deaths
  • 1906-1908: 301 deaths
  • 1915-1917: 462 deaths
  • 1944-1946: 342 deaths

The worst streak in U.S. history occurred between 1966 and 1971. During that 6 year period, there were 1,208 line-of-duty deaths. That’s nearly as many deaths than the other streaks combined — they add up to 12 years and 1,346 deaths.

And while the cumulative deaths (380) and yearly figures over the last 3 years are below the median from 1990-2010 (161 deaths), the yearly increase in deaths is very troublesome. Even worse:

  • 21 ambush-style attacks in 2016 (the most in decades)
  • 64 died from gun-inflicted wounds (56% increase from 2015)
  • 8 multi-death incidents (tied with 1971 for the most)

As you’ll read below, police officers are not compensated nearly enough for the risks they take. In addition, as the economy strengthens, many employers are offering higher pay, better benefits and more flexibility in work-life balance.

Stagnant Wages

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police officers earn a median wage of $60,270, or $28.97 per hour. However, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,710, which is below the median wage for ALL U.S. JOBS ($36,200)! And the bottom 10 percent is where many new recruits start. This is how a few small cities and towns pay their new officers (note: these wages include COLA):

  • Alpharetta, GA: $36,750
  • Bowling Green, KY: $37,905
  • Charlottsville, VA: $35,256
  • Grand Junction, CO: $56,950
  • St. Augustine, FL: $39,957
  • Roswell, NM: $44,553

On top of lower wages, NBC News recently published a story stating that the Roswell police department has a headcount shortage of about 20 percent against its budget. And the department continues to find it exceptionally difficult to recruit new officers. According to Glassdoor, low-skill manufacturing jobs (and oil and gas jobs) earn as much — if not more — as the city’s law enforcement officers. With overall violent crimes increasing in the area, a reported 137 officer-involved deaths and a location only 110 miles from the U.S./Mexico border — it’s no surprise that many younger citizens are choosing to pursue a degree or enter the manufacturing space. The risk is just too great for the compensation earned.

Decreasing Confidence

In 2015, confidence in the police forces of the U.S. dropped to a 22-year low to 52%. Those with little-to-no confidence in the police, 18%, was the highest number ever measured by Gallup. And while the collective confidence in the police force decreased, minorities (nonwhites, blacks and hispanics) saw the largest decreases from 2012-2013 to 2014-2015. Additionally, these groups also saw large decreases in police confidence:

  • Ages 18-29: 7% decrease
  • Postgraduate: 11% decrease
  • Democrats: 13% decrease
  • Household Income >$75k: 7% decrease

There were only two groups to see an increase in police confidence in 2015: Conservatives (+3) and Republicans (+1). In 2016, we did see an increase in overall confidence — up to 56% from 52% — but the gap between whites and minorities, especially blacks, grew.

Negative Media Narratives

According to Gallup, blacks are not heavily influenced with news-related stories of police violence due to their already low confidence in the police. However, those that did see precipitous drops in confidence (youth, postgrad, democrats and high-earners) were greatly influenced by media outlets running negative narrative stories.

It seems every outlet from The Washington Post to The New York Times to CNN produced potentially perception altering stories over the last few years. And if you’ve watched or read any other outlets, you’ve likely seen some negative press on policing in America. The following sites even have separate pages for stories involving police:

Police-related stories are clearly a hot topic. And ‘juicy’ stories that involve violence, crime, misconduct and other negative-leaning views tend to get the most traction among readers and viewers. It’s not surprising, but that is what also leads to significant decreases in police confidence.

What does this mean for your safety?

In 2015, there were 15,696 murders — the most since 2008 and the largest change in yearly numbers since 1990. Five Thirty Eight, released a report in January claiming the U.S. experienced another significant increase in murders — 10.5% to be exact.

According to data gathered by CBS Atlanta, nine agencies in the Metro Atlanta area saw increased response times to crimes. Yes, some of the response delay can be attributed to an increase in calls due to cell phone availability. However, if we are expected to see increasing populations and increasing usage of technology to contact law enforcement, it’s logical to expect response times to increase without equal increases in the labor force that handles and responds to those calls. A longer-than-normal response time could mean the difference between life and death. 

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