Monday, July 22, 2013

When Making a Call for Moral Leadership

Choose your statistics carefully...

A LinkedIn peer posted a link to a 9 July 2013 post at The Sentinel blog titled Gun Violence Empowered by Massive Police Layoffs: A Call for Moral Leadership.  It's a heartfelt call to reconsider the wisdom of cutting funding for the law enforcement agencies that protect our communities.

"Trenton gun violence empowered by mass police layoffs leaves 120 people shot in 6 months" as published by The Trenton Times on July 8, 2013 is a tragic commentary on the negative consequences of diminishing law enforcement resources for American communities.

The article links to a chilling video of what appears to be a criminal on criminal gun battle in Trenton in May of 2013.

The author continues by republishing a 2010 post on the topic which at that time correctly stated:

Parenthetically, a recent published report held this title: Police Fatalities jump 37 percent in 2010...

I posted the following response:

The law enforcement fatalities count you use is from 2010.  The numbers were even worse in 2011; why not use those?  Or you could use the 2012 statistics

“127 federal, state and local officers have died on the job so far, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported — 23 percent fewer than the 165 who were killed last year.

Firearms-related deaths fell to 49 this year, the memorial fund reported — down a third from 72 last year and even below the 10-year average of 57 from 2001 to 2010.

Traffic-related incidents remained the biggest hazard, however, as they have been nearly every year since the late 1990s. But they, too, fell significantly, from 60 last year to 50 this year.

The NHTSA and the memorial fund launched their own Officer Safety Initiative in August 2011, funding research and public information campaigns around police safety in traffic-related incidents.

A breakdown for 2012 wasn't reported, but the campaign noted that 42 percent of officers killed in auto crashes over the last 30 years weren't wearing safety belts. It said nearly all those deaths were preventable.”

According to a 2012 report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund linked to from the article:

“Fourteen officers died from job-related illnesses, which includes heart attacks. Five officers were fatally stabbed and three officers fell to their deaths. Two officers were killed in a helicopter crash, two were beaten to death, one died in an airplane crash, and one died in a boating incident.”

Or you could use the mid-year numbers for 2013 

“51 Law Enforcement Fatalities Nationwide in the First Half of 2013:Firearms-related fatalities decrease to a 57-year low and traffic-related fatalities hit a 34-year low”

I have yet to hear from the author.   

The problem of violent crime and its impact on law enforcement officer safety in America is as complex as it is important.  When the indicators show the problem is getting worse we must understand the problem so that we can act.  When the situation improves we must also dig into the facts to find out what is working.  Before calling a community to action we must understand today's problem.  To do that we need to use today's statistics.

UPDATE 22 July 2013: He posted a reply. 

Thanks to each of you...W..., Michael, J..., for your insightful comments and professional replies.

In turn I asked him if he would be modifying his 9 July 2013 blog post to acknowledge the marked improvement in the statistics.

UPDATE 23 July 2013: His reply and my comments in response.

“My July 9, 2013 blog highlights serious issues in Trenton, NJ with 120 people shot in 6 months”

I didn’t know if that represented a change, but another Trenton Times article, “Trenton sees 19 homicides, sharp increase in shootings in first 6 months of the year” explains that violence has been increasing for several years and that 2013 is on track to set a sad new record for homicides in that deeply troubled community.

“…and refers to a previous December 30, 2010 blog expressing a concern of diminishing law enforcement resources. Essentially, this is the heart of my concern as memorialized in the post, ‘America must not allow its communities and honorable law enforcement profession to be victimized by this current trend of layoffs. There is a way to be financially sound without undermining what is critical to the very heart of our communities and the nation itself: public safety.’"

If there is a way for Trenton to become financially sound without undermining public safety I expect many will be all ears, but the days of spending money we do not have – regardless how noble the cause – is coming rapidly to an end in America. Otherwise, the more recent statistics suggest that the law enforcement community has found ways to preserve and protect its own even with reduced funding – or that officer safety and law enforcement funding are not directly correlated.

“Although past statistics are noted, my post is not meant to be purely statistical; that is for statisticians whose insights are appreciated, but to evoke insightful responses on the complexity of the issue and possible solutions."

Statisticians collect data and transform it into information for use by policy makers and thought leaders like you. Using outdated statistics does not “evoke insightful responses.” To the contrary, it provokes an emotional reaction rather than a thoughtful one. Frightened people may be easier to lead, but we should not scare those we serve – accidentally or deliberately – if we are seeking well-reasoned solutions. When we sound a call for moral leadership we should be careful to do so only while applying the highest ethical standards ourselves. 

UPDATE 23 July 2013: He countered, in part, as follows:

Although we differ in opinion and style, it is important that professionals always apply ethical standards that are respectful toward others without being judgmental, uncharitable or aggressive in tone.

In my opinion, dignity, courtesy and the ability to disagree, collaborate and educate without being disagreeable are the hallmarks of a true professional and educator. 

FINAL UPDATE 23 July 2013: The author and I resolved the friction caused by our differences in opinion and style in an off-line communication.  All is well.