Like many of you, I assumed the neighbors would be out of fireworks on July 5th.
I was mistaken.
I was sipping sarsaparilla on the back porch Wednesday evening when the sounds of freedom erupted down the street.
“That could be gunfire,” the wife said.
“Or someone celebrating the anniversary of the original Brexit a day late,” I suggested.
In DeKalb, we’re so patriotic we’ve been lighting miniature explosives since late June.
We sometimes hear what we hope is celebratory gunfire. Or maybe someone down the street has a backyard shooting range or lots of nimble yard varmints. The cops usually cruise by within a few minutes, but they’ve yet to return fire.
Like fireworks, the use of firearms is increasing, but it’s often police pulling the trigger.
“Officer-involved shootings in Georgia total 40 so far this year after 3 incidents within 3 hours,” the AJC reported after a spate of Monday evening incidents.
Typically, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations lives up to their name and investigates when a law enforcement officer shoots someone.
But not always. The GBI has to be asked to investigate by local law enforcement. Unlike certain family members, they can’t just show up uninvited.
The FBI doesn’t have accurate data either. The federal agency also relies on voluntary reporting from police departments. The Washington Post says twice as many police shootings occur than FBI records cite.
Has there been an increase in police shootings? There’s no telling, according to formerly important people.
“We can’t have an informed discussion [about police shootings], because we don’t have data,” FBI Director James Comey told Congress in late 2015.
Data provided by the GBI indicates “use of force investigations” are on the rise here. Since 2011, the number of times the GBI has been asked to look into police treatment of humans has increased 50 percent, from 67 investigations in 2011 to 101 in 2016.
The number of fatalities in Georgia due to police action rose from 15 deaths in 2011 to 33 in 2015, a 120 percent increase. There were 77 police shootings in Georgia in 2016, including 24 fatalities. So far in 2017, police are on pace to shoot just as many Georgians in 2017, the AJC reports.
Better records are kept on how many officers die in the line of duty, and the good news is that it’s safer to wear a badge now than at any time in recent history.
During Prohibition, when politicians took away our adult beverages, law enforcement officer deaths spiked to more than 200 per year.
Police deaths surged again in the 1970s during the “War on Drugs” and more than 120 police officers were killed by firearms annually.
There are 250,000 more police now than in 1975, but the number of police deaths from gunfire has been cut in half, according to FBI statistics.
Last year was a bad one for Georgia law enforcement agents. Seven officers died from the result of gunfire, one less than the preceding five years combined.
Nationally, 64 officers were fatally shot in 2016, according to CBS News, a 56 percent increase from 2015. “Twenty-one were killed in ambush attacks often fueled by anger over police use of force involving minorities,” said the CBS article.
It sounds like we could all use a little less fireworks and a lot less gunfire.
GBI data on use of force investigations 2011-2016