Garbage collectors are more likely to die on the job than police patrol officers

This weekend, Americans will remember their fallen soldiers, a holiday traditionally observed with barbecues and the Indianapolis 500 car race. The US military isn’t the only industry that often asks the ultimate sacrifice of its workers. Some 4,585 American civilians died in the line of duty in 2013, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (pdf). Certain jobs in particular are alarmingly risky:


Strangely, police patrol officer—a job the American public commonly recognizes as one of the riskiest gigs around—doesn’t even break the top 15.

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Some might find this surprising. The mortal risks of police work has gotten more air time of late, thanks to debates around the Aug. 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as a slew of other controversial police killings of unarmed black men. Defenders of the deadly force used in those cases often invoke the daily dangers of police work. It also comes up to justify police departments’ growing embrace of military gear.

This isn’t to say that cops don’t, as US president Barack Obama recently said, “risk their own safety for ours every single day.” Still, the data do defy the conventional wisdom that policing is one of the country’s most dangerous jobs.

Though 2013’s fatality rate is lower than past years, it’s not exactly an aberration. The annual average from 2006 to 2013 is about 15.8 deaths per 100,000 police patrol officers. Even the number of deaths itself undermines the notion that hundreds of cops are murdered in the line of duty each year, as New York’s police commissioner recently stated. That’s not even close to accurate:


Of course, it’s possible that BLS’s data is off. The 79 on-the-job cop deaths it recorded is lower than the 107 and 117 fatalities that other organizations documented for 2013. Even using those data, though, police officers are less likely than taxi drivers to be killed in the line of duty.


Of course, this doesn’t mean being a cop is exactly safe. The mortality risk they brave is still many times higher than the 3.3 deaths per 100,000 that full-time American workers face overall. It’s also a heck of a lot higher than that for journalists, a job so sheltered it doesn’t even merit its own category on the list.

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