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How Dangerous Is Being a Police Officer?

By Marlene de Wilde
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Being a police officer can be a dangerous job but exactly how dangerous it is depends on many variables. There are many types of law enforcement, and different areas boast different crime and mortality rates. Being a police officer may not be as dangerous as one may think, however, as statistically it is less dangerous than being a professional fisherman.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, police officers face a fatality rate of 21.8 per 100,000, whereas the statistics for fishers and related fishing workers are actually five times that. In fact, police officers were tenth on the 2009 list of the most dangerous occupations in America, after milder sounding jobs such as truck drivers, loggers, and refuse and recyclable material collectors. The statistics do vary, however, for police officers in different areas.

Law enforcement jobs can be found at all levels of government, from federal agencies to local small-town sheriffs. The most common cause of death in the occupation is transportation incidents. Police work also carries a high risk of injury and illness. Being a police officer is a stressful occupation, as the work often involves dealing with a hostile public in difficult situations, and the threat of injury is a constant one. This has an effect on mental outlook, with the officer's personal life often suffering if he has difficulty dealing with stress.

Some officers patrol the streets on foot while others ride in cars or on bicycles, horses or motorbikes. Some of them are in uniform and others in plainclothes. A great deal of the work involves writing reports and performing routine tasks such as gathering information. It is in the operation of motor vehicles and equipment as well as in the resolution of disputes and the apprehension of suspects that the danger lies.

The majority of deaths have occurred accidentally rather than feloniously, which is a reversal of past trends. Many police officers have lost their lives as a result of standing outside their cars on a roadside and being knocked down by oncoming traffic as they deal with a traffic violation or accident scene. While police fatalities have decreased over the years, the relative number of traffic fatalities has steadily increased.

Working at night is generally more dangerous than working during the day, as criminality is more predominant during the evening hours. Improvements in equipment and training and better emergency medical care have led to a decrease in the danger of being a police officer. There is an unpredictability to police work, however, that makes it more dangerous than most other jobs.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon990797 — On May 10, 2015

Ask a cop these four questions to see how stressed out he is (if he is very stressed however you wont live). 1. Is everyone guilty of something? All police officers will say yes. 2. Are police officers human? (they will think this is a put down, but eventually come to say yes). 3. Do cops do illegal things, um, er, ah (takes a step closer to interviewer). 4. Have you ever arrested another officer who was committing a crime in front of you (please be over 10 feet away and filming the conversation, or you will be either dead, arrested for obstruction/resisting arrest, going for their gun).

By jonrss — On Apr 13, 2012

There has been a lot of talk lately about police brutality. And while some of the charges are most certainly real, I think other instances are justified and necessary displays of police force.

A cop never knows if someone has a gun or a knife or is going to take a swing at them. When they detain someone they have to use a significant amount of force to ensure their own safety and the safety of others around. It may look violent but there is not way to detain someone gently. It is just a consequence of the job.

By truman12 — On Apr 13, 2012

My father was a police officer and he faced a number of dangers. He got into a number of fights, had to drive fast through city streets, go into dark buildings filled with unknowns and knock on the doors of people who were very unhappy to see him.

He made it out relatively unscathed but he got a lot of bruises and cuts. He considers himself lucky. I know that he had a number of close calls but he has always been hesitant to talk about that stuff with me. I think we would both prefer it that way.

By Ivan83 — On Apr 12, 2012

I have heard people say that being a police officer is not that dangerous. I even once had a guy try to tell me that being a garbage man was more dangerous. But lets be real, being a police officer is extremely dangerous anywhere you work.

The simple fact is that any interaction you have has the potential to turn violent. You are dealing with people who are already criminals or who have the capacity to become criminals. The threat of violence looms around every corner. You have to think beyond the number of cops that are killed in the line of duty. Think of how many cops are punched or stabbed or hit with cars. They take a beating.

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