Published February 1976 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd The Dangers of Police Work Law enforcement has never been a safe occupation; but, according to recently released statistics from the FBI, there are more dangers involved in police work now than ever before. In 1974-the last year for which complete figures are available-132 local, county, state, and federal law enforcement officers were killed in the United States. That was the second highest annual total for the decade 1965-1974, during which 947 officers were slain. The FBI, in an effort to curb the trend of ever-increasing police killings, did an exhaustive examination of the decade. One finding was that "more officers were killed in attempting arrests than in any other police activity," and the FBI followed that discovery with a warning to officers that "no arrest should be considered routine." In addition to examining how and why police officers were slain during the 10- year period, the FBI also took a long, hard look at the persons responsible for the killings. A total of 1,330 persons were identified and charged in the killings, which cleared 95 percent of the cases; and, from studying those persons, a very interesting picture of the police-killer developed. For instance, of the 1,330 persons, a full 77 percent had been arrested previously on criminal charges -and 57 percent of the total had prior convictions on criminal charges. Forty-one percent of the 1,330 persons had been arrested for crimes of violence; 21 percent for weapons violations; 15 percent on narcotics charges; and, most surprising of all, 10 percent for prior assaults on law enforcement officers. Police officers, then, are being attacked and killed by repeat offenders, the same kinds of habitual criminals who pose a threat to the general population. And the remedy to curtail the number of police killings, to help restore respect for law enforcement officers, is identical to the solution to the overall crime problem - namely, make sure that criminals, once convicted, are sent to jail, and not permitted to remain on the streets to repeat their heinous crimes. To do any less is to guarantee a continual spiralling of the crime rate, and to insure additional police officers being killed in the line of duty.