Law enforcement morale is at an all-time low as uniformed officers endure increased pushback from the communities and politicians they’re risking their lives to protect, and a new report released Monday shows on-duty law enforcement deaths in 2014 occurring at nearly twice the previous year’s rate.
“One of the things that we’ve seen just lately, that we’ve never seen before, is police officers are telling their own families, and their own children, ‘Don’t go into this line of duty, this line of work, because it’s not worth it any more,’” said Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations.
The number of law enforcement officers who were feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2014 increased 89 percent as compared to the year prior — with most dying after being shot by gun-carrying criminals, according to a preliminary report issued by the FBI on Monday.
In raw numbers, 51 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2014, versus 27 such deaths in 2013.
The FBI report Monday was preliminary; the complete annual report will be released in the fall.
And the number killed in deliberate ambush attacks has tripled in a year, according to data collected by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. In 2014 there were 15 officers killed in fatal ambushes compared to five in 2013, the group said.
Police unions are “very much concerned” over the increased number of attacks on officers, which seem to be planned ambushes and unprovoked attacks, Mr. Johnson said.
The recent fatal attacks on New York police officer Brian Moore, 25, as well as Hattiesburg, Mississippi, police officers Benjamin Deen, 34, and Liquori Tate, 25, have resonated with law enforcement officers nationwide, said Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association President Jon Adler.
The three men were killed less than a week apart — all while conducting traffic stops.
Last year, the death of Eric Garner, a black man who died after an officer subdued him with a chokehold, led a man to ambush and kill two other New York City cops, Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32, in retaliation while they were sitting in their car.
Police advocates blamed that attack, and possibly others, on the resulting national debate over the use of deadly force, in which the police are routinely depicted as racists out to harass and oppress blacks and other minorities.
“While some honorable law enforcement officers are able to screen out the crowd noise and stay focused on the mission, the tragic loss of blue lives and biased anti-cop slander have certainly impacted overall morale,” said Mr. Adler. “The sustained anti-cop rhetoric has taken its toll on officer morale, but the indomitable blue spirit will ultimately stay the course and prevail.”
Now police are mourning the death of their comrades while continuing to endure the demoralizing rhetoric of citizens and lawmakers who spread “bombastic anti-cop gibberish,” Mr. Adler said.
That biased, anti-cop commentary can be disheartening for some officers, he said.
For example, after the rioting in Baltimore because of the arrest and ultimate death of Freddie Gray, President Obama said in a speech that “there are some police who aren’t doing the right thing,” pointing to tensions with law enforcement and the black community that seem to boil up “like once a week now.”
“This is a slow-rolling crisis,” Mr. Obama said in his April 28 comments. “This has been going on for a long time. This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend it’s new.”
Mr. Obama had previously injected himself into a nonfatal dispute involving black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, in which the president said the cop “acted stupidly,” prompting a backlash from the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police that forced the president to back off some and call a White House “beer summit” between himself, Mr. Gates and Sgt. James Crowley.
Others have been even less measured than Mr. Obama.
For example, a social media hubbub occurred at the weekend over a Mississippi fast-food worker who was fired for celebrating on Facebook the deaths of the Hattiesburg officers. And video footage of multiple demonstrations from New York to Portland, Oregon, in the past year has caught chants such as “deck the halls with rows of dead cops” and “What do we want? / Dead cops / When do we want it? / Now.”
Police work is dangerous, and “partisan, political sound bites” are piling additional danger on top of officers, Mr. Adler said.
Mr. Johnson agrees.
“Traditionally, I think politicians, whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, have always taken great pains to publicly support the men and women out there that are trying to do this job,” Mr. Johnson said. “And I think, unfortunately, over say the last eight or nine months, there has been not just a lack of leadership supporting police at the political level, but it’s almost like the coin has flipped.”
Following the deaths of Ramos and Liu, growing fractures between lawmakers and law enforcement officers became evident. Police showed their displeasure with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had said he warned his biracial son about racist cops, by turning their backs on him during a press conference to discuss the murder of the two officers and again during the funeral for Ramos.
An effort to quell that tension came from federal government officials during National Police Week.
FBI Director James B. Comey said in an online video released Monday that one of the hardest things he has to do is call the heads of law enforcement departments who have lost an officer in the line of duty.
“I make far too many calls,” he said. “I make calls to small departments, to big departments, to urban departments, to rural departments. I make far too many calls.”
In the video, Mr. Comey noted the strained relationship between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve, and appealed to officers to try to clearly see the people that they serve.
“I think we’re at a time where we have an especially challenging relationship between law enforcement and the communities that we serve,” he said. “I think it’s very, very important for all of us that we do our absolute best to try to see clearly those people that we serve and look for opportunities to have them see us, see the nature and character of the people who are in law enforcement and why we do the work that we do.”
Only then will officers be able to “heal some of the divisions we’re facing now around this country,” Mr. Comey said.