As court proceedings began last week in the case of Philando Castile, the names and faces of people whose lives were taken by peace officers were also discussed. A total of 986 people died at the hands of a peace officer in 2016, the year Castile was killed. This has alarmed many. The consensus has been that peace officers pose a threat to communities, especially people of color.
As concerned citizens, the implications of this supposed threat have weighed on society since the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, in Sanford, Fla., by George Zimmerman. Since then, more cases have been highlighted, and advocates for justice have hit the streets in protest. Death is a high-stakes matter; homicide is even higher. The effects can reverberate long after an event. Consolation and relief are sorely needed. Here is an analysis of the facts and explanation of how the impact has come to exemplify a threat to certain community members.
An investigation into the probability of any individual being killed by an officer while being arrested is prudent. We can do this by pulling up the data from the FBI, or crime statistics within specific regions. There is also a running count of peace officer homicides conducted by the Washington Post. There isn’t a full report as of today of all crime statistics from 2016 from the FBI, so we can use 2015 to compare. The statistics from previous years do not vary dramatically, so it will not significantly affect the outcome to use a previous year.
Per the FBI’s Table 43, there were 8,248,709 arrests made in 2015, and per the Washington Post database, there were 991 fatal police altercations with suspects. This makes the probability of being fatally shot when arrested by a peace officer 1 in 8,323.
The number of blacks killed by police was 258. The number of arrests was 2,197,140. This puts the probability of an arrested black person being killed by a peace officer at 1 in 8,516.
There were 5,753,212 arrests of white people and 495 white people killed by peace officers, or 1 in 11,622.
What this means is that the probability is so low — roughly 0.01 percent in each case — as to be virtually nonexistent to anyone being arrested.
Consider that in 2015, it is known to law enforcement that 17,832,821 crimes were committed. Using this information, we can conclude that the number of service calls made by peace officers, as well as those in the form of reports of suspicious activity, traffic stops and stop-and-frisk incidents, make the number of arrests smaller compared with the level of contact peace officers had with community members; therefore, the probability of any person having contact with a peace officer and being killed is even lower than the previously mentioned 0.01 percent.
Still, the idea spread that peace officers posed a threat to community members. One reason is how the mind processes information — for instance, the availability heuristic, the process the brain uses via shortcut to recall familiar events as common. The high stakes involved, the shock to communities and families, and the frequent media coverage all play into the way we as a country are affected. There was never an actual threat; now is the time to end the idea. This trend is dangerous.
Community members not trusting peace officers makes them vulnerable to offenders. Offenders prey on vulnerabilities, one being the unlikeliness a person will call in peace officers to intervene. We cannot be safe without a relationship with law enforcement. There are also consequences to members of society who believe they are being targeted. Successful societies need trust. Thankfully, the issue of law enforcement targeting minorities can be put to rest, and we can move on to addressing more significant issues — reducing crime rates and protecting the innocent victims being preyed on by real villains. We can turn our attention to supporting peace officers who, after being demonized heavily, gravely need our support while risking their lives protecting all of us.
Lisa Tibbitts lives in White Bear Lake.