The murder of two police officers in Brooklyn just days before Christmas was both shocking and horribly saddening.
NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were, by all accounts, the finest of public servants, and their killings have touched on a nerve. There is universal mourning for these officers who gave their lives in the line of duty.
We are all in solidarity with police officers. As members of a democratic society whose tax dollars pay the salaries of public workers, it is entirely reasonable to both support police and to hold them to the utmost standard. That doesn’t make one anti-cop.
A gross overestimation of the anti-cop fringe has led, in some corners, to the drawing of battle lines. The following, then, are areas where those on both sides of this artificial divide should be able to find common ground — and where the pro-accountability folks will likely be able to demonstrate their earnest desire for the well-being of cops.
First of all, the money going to police departments for expensive military-style weaponry should instead go to police officers themselves, by increasing their pay or their pensions. (NYPD officers have a starting salary of $34,970 — barely livable in New York City. The average salary for a Schenectady police officer is not much higher.) Crucially, disability funds should be expanded for those injured on the job. Indeed, paying police officers more will attract more talent, and make it so that current members of the force won’t need to find a living elsewhere, and can instead focus on police work.
Second, those with a reinvigorated concern for the police would do well to revisit opposition to reasonable gun control. By “reasonable gun control,” I don’t mean banning firearms wholesale; I mean restrictions on certain types of guns, universal background checks, and increased efforts to keep guns out of the wrong hands.)
Why is this so important from the perspective of a police officer? Think about it. When being dispatched to any given location, would you rather there be more or less guns involved in the mix?
This isn’t just theory. There is a certain dynamic unique to our country that causes police work to be a more difficult and often deadly affair. Our country has easy access to a large variety of guns, resulting in 90 firearms per every 100 residents. Officers have to assume — unlike in the rest of the industrial world — that any dispatch may well lead to surprise violence.
The numbers: In the United States, almost 500 civilians died as a result of police action in 2013, with 27 officers losing their lives (which was a drop from the 49 officers who were killed the previous year).
In 2013, British police fired their guns three times, resulting in no deaths. In 2012, British police fired just once — again resulting in no deaths. And in both 2012 and 2013, it was possible to count the deaths of British police officers on one hand. This isn’t surprising: In the United Kingdom, there are about six guns per 100 residents.
In Iceland, a man was killed by police for the first time in all the country’s history, triggering a period of national mourning and self-reflection. In Iceland, you need to pass a medical and written examination before owning a gun, which is regulated and tracked.
All this, no doubt, affects the relationships between police and the public: American cops have to be ready to shoot first. British, German, Japanese and other cops don’t. In Japan, even the Yakuza gangs tend not to use guns because the penalties are so high. And so there are many years where there are no deaths by guns at all in Japan.
This is absolutely, a 100 percent, not to say that guns should be banned. Nor is it to say that New York State’s SAFE Act is perfect. It most certainly isn’t. But it’s to say that those who oppose any form of gun control whatsoever should reconsider the effect that gun ownership per capita almost twice that of Yemen may have on U.S. police officers compared to their counterparts in countries like Britain, Germany and Japan.
Indeed, if Ismaaiyl Brinsley — the man who shot the two NYPD officers — lived elsewhere, he would likely have been unable to get a firearm with which to commit this double murder. To protect the lives of police officers, then, we need to enact and retain smart gun policy, like the rest of the developed world.
A survey done by PoliceOne.com of 15,000 police officers purports to represent the views of America’s police officers as being anti–gun control. However, this survey is not relevant because of its unscientific nature. These 15,000 survey respondents are self-selected participants, drawn from 400,000 registered members of PoliceOne.com itself.
No quality polling organization conducts opinion surveys in this manner; indeed, a scientifically-valid survey would involve random selection of participants, preferably contacted via telephone.
Unfortunately, there is no sound data on individual police officers’ opinions on gun control. But we should note that some of the largest police organizations in the country — including the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the National Fraternal Order of Police, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police — have come out in favor of gun control of one kind of another.
I believe that the recent rallying to police officers is genuine.
Police officers deserve our thanks for the difficult job they do in providing law and order.
They also deserve our support on pay, pensions and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable.
Steve Keller lives in Averill Park and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.