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Fighting A Losing Battle
1996 Citizens Commission on Human Rights. All Rights Reserved.Re-printed with permission.


During the 1960s, the United States averaged 3.3 police officers for every violent crime reported per year. By 1993, the numbers had totally reversed: 3.47 violent crimes for every police officer--11.45 times as many violent crimes as before. It has been figured that if the country wanted to return to the same ratio that it had in the 1960s, we would have to hire five million new officers.

Clearly, law enforcement officials are having a hard time keeping up with what they have to face out on the increasingly violent streets. And it is disheartening for them to see that much of the crime is being committed by juvenile offenders, who seem to be getting increasingly younger and more vicious.

And of those criminals who are caught, convicted and sentenced to hard time, some 80 percent will commit more crimes and return to prison--again and again.

The general public is outraged, and law enforcement is more often than not the target--after all, the streets are still not safe.

It is a game police feel they cannot win and, as noted, their morale has suffered.

Divorce rates among police are twice as high as in other occupations. And more police kill themselves than are killed by criminals.

Last year, for example, the New York Police Department (NYPD) set a record for suicides. In the last ten years, three times as many police in the NYPD--64--killed themselves as were killed in the line of duty--20. In 1994, their suicide rate, at 29 per 100,000, dwarfed the national average of 12 per 100,000 in the general population.

This problem is not confined only to New York City. According to the National Association of Chiefs of Police, every year more than 300 officers commit suicide. A study by the federal Centers for Disease Control estimated that law enforcement officials have about a 30 percent greater chance of suicide than the general population.

Crime, meanwhile, is not only skyrocketing, it is harder to solve than ever before.

It used to be, for example, that the great majority of murders were committed by someone who personally knew the victim. This, of course, contributed greatly to the ability of law enforcement to apprehend those responsible. The FBI now estimates that a full 53 percent of all homicides are committed by total strangers. In 1965, the national homicide clearance rate, or the rate at which murders were solved, was 91 percent. Since then, however, the effects of drugs and rising criminality have taken their toll; the clearance rate for the last two years has dropped to 65.5 percent--and in cities of over a million inhabitants, 58.3 percent.

Given all of these job frustrations, it comes as no surprise that despair is often the lot of many police officers.