Closing out a year would not be complete without the traditional avalanche of news articles that attempt to wrap up our collective yearly experiences into a nifty little gift bag. Sucker that I am for tradition, I spent much of the waning hours of 2011 reflecting on the trends and stats of our most recent spin around the sun.
And I found a paradox.
An insightful column in the Trib, written by the Washington Post’s Charles Lane, highlights the national crime rate’s plunge over the last 20 years. I appreciated his nod to this phenomenon, both for the rare bit of good news as well as his insight on its causes.
These statistics, which continued to nosedive this past year, could be attributed to many factors: social intervention; increased incarceration rates; better policing models. Lane points out, however, that there is no definitive answer to the decline. Population trends and socio-economic demographics are also possible causes, though difficult to prove (much as my own theory, which is that even criminals are spending way too much time on Facebook).
Whatever the reason, it would appear that crime is on the decline. Except for one statistic: cop-killing.
The Department of Justice’s report, discussed in a 12/28 Trib column, concluded that 173 officers had been killed in the line of duty in 2011. This was an overall increase of 13% over 2010 and marked the second year in a row of such an increase. Another violent trend was the 15% increase in death by gunfire. These stats are the highest since the inception of bullet-proof vests in the late 1970′s brought significant decline.
The gory details surrounding the last call of a fellow cop is distributed for educational purposes. Not surprisingly, it is also a gut-wrenching and sobering experience. After so many years (and so many funerals), the words “FBI report of a police officer killed in the line of duty” instinctively makes my fists clench and my head swim. At the conclusion of the report my vision is sometimes inexplicably blurred by moisture.
At least for me, there is a strong sour flavor to the sweet news reported nationwide. I have a difficult time understading the paradox between a nation experiencing a healthy and welcome decline in overall crime, while a cop is far more likely to die a violent death. Though it would be very useful to know why this is so, when 2012 draws to a close I still fervently hope that the year end articles continue to show a downward trend in nationwide crime.
And I don’t really care if the credit goes to social intervention, longer incarceration or better policing – just as long as I don’t have to listen to any more stories about the violent death of a police officer.