SID SALTER: Danger, low pay go with lawmen’s turf

Back in May, President Barack Obama honored the nation’s 143 fallen law enforcement officers at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service, an annual ceremony honoring law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in the previous year.

The president said all the right things: “We can never repay our debt to these officers and their families, but we must do what we can, with all that we have, to live our lives in a way that pays tribute to their memory. We should not pause and remember to thank first responders and police officers only in the wake of tragedy. We should do it every day.

“And those of us who have the privilege to lead should all strive to support you better – whether it’s making sure police departments and first responders have the resources they need to do their jobs, or the reforms that are required to protect more of our officers and their families from the senseless epidemics of violence that all too often wrack our cities and haunt our neighborhoods,” said Obama.

But in truth, the nation too often leaves lawmen to languish in a high-stress job that offers low pay and high danger. That’s true here in Mississippi as well.

Mississippi ranks fourth in the nation during the past five years in the average annual death rate per 50,000 law enforcement and corrections officers at 8.2 after 12 officers lost their lives. The statistics came from an analysis by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

The NLEOMF reports that on average, one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty somewhere in the United States every 57 hours. Since the first known line-of-duty death in 1791, more than 19,000 U.S. law enforcement officers have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Governing Magazine reports that an analysis of fatality data showed states in the southeastern U.S. recorded the nation’s highest per capita death rates. Not including states with less than a few thousand officers, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Georgia, Arkansas and Louisiana were found to have the most police deaths given their number of officers.

About half of fatalities result from traffic accidents. Shootings also account for a high number of deaths, followed by falls and work-related illnesses.

Mississippi has a total of 245 line of duty deaths among law enforcement officers from causes that range from the 1967 explosion of a fire extinguisher that killed Tunica Police Chief R.O. Snow to a July 20 incident in which Jackson Police Officer Bruce Daniel Jacobs was struck by a car while on duty.

Those 245 officers died from assaults (5), auto accidents (26), drowning (1), gunfire (164), heart attack (6), motorcycle accident (8), stabbing (6), struck by train (3), struck by vehicle (11), vehicular assault (9), and vehicular pursuit (5), according to the website Officer Down.

Despite the high degree of danger, median Mississippi law enforcement salaries were $47,070 for supervisors of police and detectives, $45,110 for detectives and criminal investigators, and $30,370 for police and sheriff’s patrol officers according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Couple the dangers of the job with low pay, an extremely high divorce rate among law enforcement officers and stress, and there’s little wonder that the line of duty deaths of our first responders evoke such passions among their colleagues.

As Mississippi’s economy begins to recover and local governments get on firmer footing, the state’s law enforcement community deserves some consideration from county and municipal governments in terms of compensation. They do a thankless job and for the most part, these officers do their jobs well.

SID SALTER is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or sidsalter@sidsalter.com.

  • guest

    A really nice idea but you don’t understand the society we have built. We will gladly accept that a college dropout sports player can make millions of dollars or that a Kardashian can be offered millions of dollars for pictures of a baby. However when it comes to public servants such as police, firemen, teachers or caregivers – we somehow list them as over paid parasites in the name of lower taxes – until we need them.