Is the rise in the number of police officers shot and killed — 33 this year compared with 18 last year so far, short-term spike or the end of a downward trend in cop deaths? The Christian Science Monitor asks this question. The numbers often have fluctuated from year to year. While closely tracking fatalities is valuable, criminologists say, increases over a brief period shouldn’t be confused with the larger trend: fatal shootings of police have declined dramatically since a high in the 1970s, driven in part by changes in policing, such as the use of body armor. “Six months isn’t enough data to know if this is the beginning of something awful or an anomaly,” says University of Pittsburgh law Prof. David Harris.
The fact that 14 shootings during the first half of the year were ambush attacks, compared with three such attacks by the same period last year, could provide a further talking point for a focus on law and order that dominated events such as the Republican National Convention. “Certainly cops were aware, you could even say paranoid, about ambushes before this. There’s a great amount of fear instilled in cops, and I think that’s a little bit of a problem,” says Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.“But these [recent attacks] are a little different because I think, right or wrong, they are linked to a movement and then it seems more threatening,” he adds. David Klinger, a former police officer who teaches criminology at the University of Missouri St. Louis says, “If people understand why the police are wary, they might be more likely to be less confrontational toward the police.” On the other hand, “perhaps officers will be alert to this heightened concern and manage to avoid getting into situations where they use force,” he says.