News & Politics

Death On Duty: Cops and Risks


A few years ago, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association placed ads in subway cars that depicted a uniformed police officer laying face down next to his squad car, obviously dead or dying. The purpose was to dramatize the risks of the job. In terms of losing one’s life, it’s debatable how perilous it actually is to be a cop compared to other dangerous jobs; the FDNY, for example, lost three guys in a single day last January. But what was made clear this past weekend is that getting shot is just one of the threats that come with police work.

In 2004, out of the 5,000 or so Americans who died at work, 136 were law enforcement officers. A third were murdered; more died in car accidents. Four NYPD officers were killed in the line of duty that year, and two perished on the job in 2005. Others were shot but survived. So far this year, the NYPD has lost Officer Francis Hennessy, who apparently suffered a brain aneurysm en route to a report of an armed man, and Officer Kevin Lee, who collapsed Friday after chasing and fighting with a suspect.

But some casualties won’t make the stats. Officer Eric Hernandez wasn’t shot in the line of duty: He was beat up by guys in a White Castle (Notice how one of the assailants was wearing one of those charming “Stop Snitching” T-shirts?), then wounded by a cop. Officer Alfredo Toro wasn’t shot at all: He’s the guy who wounded Hernandez. But even if his use of deadly force is found compliant with NYPD rules, Toro will also suffer. Then there’s James Zadroga, a retired cop who died earlier this month from an ailment that his loved ones think stemmed from his work at Ground Zero. His passing also will not count toward the NYPD toll.

Finally, full disclosure: A few weeks ago I reported on the obstacles I encountered a couple years ago trying to report a simple crime to the 52nd Precinct. It took hours and hours. In fairness, that’s not always the case: The cops were there within moments of a report early Saturday morning of a domestic assault out on the street.

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