The Myth that Policing is Dangerous: Dismantling an Excuse They Use When They Kill Us

“It’s a dangerous job.”

“They put their lives on the line every time they suit up.”

“They’re under a lot of pressure.”

“They face constant threats.”

One of the most durable and potent myths about policing is that it is dangerous work. Indeed this myth is often used to justify police violence and the lethal use of force, quick trigger fingers and a shoot to kill ethos. This myth is used as well as political capital to justify growing militarization of police forces and the increasing “equipmentization” of forces (body armor, more powerful weaponry, armored vehicles, sound cannons, riot gear, etc.).

Yet it turns out that policing is nowhere near being one of the most dangerous jobs in Canada. Not even close. As Adriana Barton puts it: “But in terms of workplace hazards, firefighters and police officers are relative lightweights compared to workers at greatest risk for job-related accidents, and death. Among the most threatening health and safety issues for police officers, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and safety lists sitting and standing for long periods (CCOHS 2016). There are ore industrial deaths in Canada ever year than the number of police officers killed in Canada throughout the country’s history. Yet cops use the dangerous job myth to justify killing poor working class people (while doing nothing about the bosses responsible for workplace deaths).

Policing do not show up on any list of most dangerous jobs in Canada.

The top 10 most dangerous jobs (and their main hazards) are as follows:

  1. Loggers: falling trees, cutting equipment.
  2. Fisheries workers: drowning, heavy equipment.
  3. Pilots and flight engineers: air disturbances, high altitudes, takeoffs and landings.
  4. Roofers: falling from heights, heat stroke in summer.
  5. Structural iron and steel workers: falling from heights, heavy materials, welding.
  6. Garbage and recyclables collectors: hazardous materials, heavy equipment, road accidents.
  7. Electrical power line installers and repairers: electricity, falling from heights.
  8. Truck drivers and mobile sales workers: road accidents, exhaustion.
  9. Farmers, ranchers, agricultural managers: heavy equipment, large animals.
  10. Construction workers: dangerous equipment and large animals. (Barton 2014)

According to statistics from AWCBC (Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada), Canada’s most dangerous industries have the following rates of fatalities. Fishing and trapping have 52 workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers. Mining, quarrying and oil wells have 46.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers. Logging and forestry have 33.3 workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers. For construction the rate of fatalities is 20.2 per 100,000. The rate for transportation and storage is 16.0 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

And no one is willing to concede that the great danger faced by workers in these jobs justifies or legitimizes their killing people because they are under pressure, exposed to dangers, or simply afraid. “Going postal” should properly be termed “going cop” and should have been all along.

These are primarily blue collar jobs. And they typically do not pay anywhere near what police are paid in Canada. A recent survey of 4,500 Canadian police officers by Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of Western University found that 52 per cent of cops earn between $80,000 and $99,000 and 38 per cent earn $100,000 or more (cited in Quan 2012). Maclean’s magazine, the national newsweekly in Canada refers to police officers as part of Canada’s “new upper class” (Macdonald 2013).

In Windsor, Ontario, one of the most economically depressed cities in the country 40 percent of the police force took home more than $100,000 in 2012. In 2013, an arbitrator awarded the police a substantial 12 per cent pay hike over four years, retroactive to 2011 (Macdonald 2013). This despite one murder in the city over the previous three years combined and an overall decrease in crime rates. According to Maclean’s, police in British Columbia out-earned engineers, whose 2012 median income was $87,500, as reported by the Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (Macdonald 2013). The median income for a police officer in Abbotsford was reported as $107,000 while provincially the median income for municipal police officers was around $95,000 (Macdonald 2013).

That is quite impressive danger pay. It far exceeds the pay of most of the workers in the actually dangerous jobs in Canada. Where is their danger pay? Quite the opposite. The average Canadian logger, the most dangerous job in Canada by many counts, earns a paltry $26,500 a year (Barton 2014).

Police promote and prey upon people’s fears of the scary, anonymous criminal, the bad person who seeks to harm us and against whom the police must always be armed, dangerous, and ready to kill (to defend themselves, of course). Yet people in Canada are consistently more likely to be killed simply trying to put food on the table or a roof over their heads. Twice as many people in Canada are killed carrying out their job than are murdered every year in Canada. In the Canadian context there are about five fatalities on the job per workday (Swartz 2016). There are typically more than 1,000 deaths each year in workplaces. Even more, there are about 15.5 cases of work-related injuries per thousand people employed in Canada (Swartz 2016). These are almost all avoidable deaths that occur simply because bosses are cutting corners and costs to increase profits. They are homicides.

Yet civilians are far more likely to be killed by police than police have to fear from civilians. A study by Whittingham in 1984, one of the few to study the issue in the Canadian context, found that between 1975 and 1979 the homicide rates per 100,000 for police officers were substantially lower than for the general public. Indeed the homicide rates for police officers were a minuscule 0.1 while for members of the general public the rates were 2.91 (Whittingham 1984). In reality it was safer being a police officer in Canada, considerably safer than simply being a person. So much for the dangerous job claim.

In reality the supposed scary criminal of police mythology has far more to fear from police than the other way around. As do we all.

Even if one looks at homicides the numbers are telling. Between 1961 and 2009 the Canadian government reports that 133 police personnel have been victims of homicide. Most of those deaths occurred in the first half of that time period, between 1961 and 1984. That was a period in which violent crime rates in Canada were up as a whole. Still that number puts police well behind other occupations. Taxi drivers are victims of on the job homicide at rates twice that of police. Some would suggest that other jobs such as sex work are even more dangerous and sex workers subject to even higher on the job homicide rates. The horrible irony is that, based on conversations with sex workers and street advocates, a number of those homicides likely come at the hands of police officers but will never be reported as such or perpetrators identified let alone charged or convicted.

Historically, a total of 234 officers with the RCMP and its predecessor, the North West Mounted Police, have died in the line of duty. Most of these were the result of accidents and natural disasters. The total number of RCMP officers shot and killed on duty is 78. In about a century-and-a-half (CBC News 2014).

Unfortunately there is no systematic record keeping of people killed by police in Canada. And, as stated above, there is no way to gain access to or record people who have been killed by police in back alleys or on the outskirts of town (as in the so-called “Blue Tours” in which police infamously drop largely indigenous people on the edge of town, in the snow, in the middle of a Canadian winter). So the numbers of people killed by cops in Canada is inevitably an undercount.  Still a few groups and individuals do try. Research done by killercopscanada and the Coalition contre la Répression et les Abus Policier (la CRAP) suggests that since 1987 there have been at least 847 people killed through contact with police in Canada. That number would be more than the number of police fatalities, of all forces, federal, provincial, and municipal, combined since 1865—before there was a Canada!

The myth of policing as a dangerous, risky, or threatening job is a political tool. It is promoted by corporate media, police associations, and governments to both justify and increase funding for forces (already the largest expenditure of municipal budgets) and to legitimize the regular and ongoing use of often lethal force against civilian, mostly poor working class, people. It is an ideological mechanism in regimes of regulation and accumulation. And it allows them to arm to the teeth, shoot first and ask questions later—and kill us with impunity.

 

Further Reading

Barton, Adriana. 2014. “And the Top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs Are.” Globe and Mail. Jan. 15. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/the-hot-button/and-the-top-10-most-dangerous-jobs-are/article16352517/

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. 2016. “OHS Answer Fact Sheet: Police.” http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/occup_workplace/police.html

CBC News. 2014. “Killed in the Line of Duty: History of RCMP Shooting Deaths.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. June 5. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/killed-in-the-line-of-duty-history-of-rcmp-shooting-deaths-1.2665668

Dunn, Sara. 2010. “Police Officers Murdered in the Line of Duty 1961–2009.” Juristat. Statistics Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2010003/article/11354-eng.htm

Macdonald, Nancy. 2013. “The $100,000 Club: Who’s Really Making Big Money These Days?” Maclean’s. April 15.  http://www.macleans.ca/economy/business/the-new-upper-class/

Quan, Douglas. 2012. “Canadian Police Officers Overworked, Understaffed, Stressed Out: Surevy.” Postmedia News. April 24. http://www.canada.com/health/Canadian+police+officers+overworked+understaffed+stressed+survey/6506477/story.html

Swartz, Mark. 2016. “Canada’s Most Dangerous Jobs: Weighing the Risks of Hazardous Careers.” Monster. http://career-advice.monster.ca/job-hunt-strategy/company-industry-research/canada-most-dangerous-jobs-ca/article.aspx

Whittingham, Michael D. 1984. “Police/Public Homicides and Fatalities in Canada: A Current Assessment—Serving and Being Protected.” Canadian Police Chief. 3(10): 4–8

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