Last week was an emotional one for North Dakotans, particularly in the Fargo area.
Fargo Police Officer Jason Moszer lost his life responding to a domestic disturbance call. It was the first death of a Fargo police officer in the line of duty since 1882, and the first for North Dakota since 2011. Before that, North Dakota hadn’t seen an in-the-line-of-duty officer death since 1996.
North Dakotans – including this one – have a deep and abiding respect for law enforcement. The outpouring of support for Moszer’s family, and law enforcement in general, has been nothing short of marvelous. As I wrote last week, SAB readers helped raise over $30,000 for Moszer’s family. That’s something I’m proud of, though my part in it all was relatively small.
All that said, the reaction to Officer Moszer’s death was, at times, a bit too visceral.
“You know, people are hunting us and how do you think that sits with us?” Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney told the media at a press conference shortly after Moszer’s death.
“We’re the guardians and warriors of our community and our society and we’re not going to ever quit that,” Laney continued.
When I first heard those comments I cringed a bit, and chalked them up to Laney (who is prone to saying intemperate things) getting caught up in the heat of the moment.
But words mean things, and when powerful public officials say inaccurate and illogical things they should be held accountable for them. Laney saying that he and his fellow North Dakota law enforcement officials are being “hunted” is just plain inaccurate. And please, please, let’s stop thinking of cops as “warriors.”
To the first point, the fact that the Fargo Police Department hadn’t seen a line-of-duty death for an officer in over 100 years puts lie to this notion that cops are being “hunted.” In fact, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page – a widely cited database of law enforcement deaths – Laney’s department has never seen a sheriff or deputy killed in the line of duty, and their records go back to the 19th century.
In fact, if we look at the incidence rate of line-of-duty deaths for law enforcement officers using data from the Officer Down Memorial Page (which includes corrections officials and game wardens in its count), we can see that Laney’s “hunted” comments just aren’t based in fact. Law enforcement deaths are relatively rare, and trending down.
If we look at national figures this trend also holds true. Economist Mark Perry, also using data from the Officer Down page, points out that 2015 was one of the safest years for cops nationally.
Which isn’t to say that we should trivialize these deaths or treat them cavalierly. But to claim that cops are being “hunted” – be it in North Dakota or elsewhere – is just flat-out inaccurate.
Our law enforcement leaders should be accurate when speaking about something as emotional and provocative as law enforcement deaths. Exaggeration is both unseemly and inappropriate.
As for calling cops warriors, let’s remember that warriors fight wars. Do we really believe that our cops are fighting wars in the streets of North Dakota? Is there some civil war going on that we haven’t been clued into?
Sure there’s the policy “wars” politicians and law enforcement types like to declare. Things like the “war on drugs” and the “war on human trafficking.” But treating those sort of policy initiatives as wars is the sort of blinkered thinking which has led to our law enforcement officers being kitted out like actual soldiers and not the civilian law enforcers they’re supposed to be.
We’re wasting money with that sort of nonsense. Worse, with every absurdly overzealous purchase of military-style equipment for local law enforcement, we’re inching our society a little closer to a police state.
I hate to say that Sheriff Laney was using Officer Moszer’s death as an excuse to throw around rhetoric justifying the “warrior cop” mentality, but that’s sort of how it came off.
Maybe next time he could check the facts first.