The standard response when you bring up such figures is to argue that even if cop-killings are down in general, ideologically motivated cop-killings may be on the rise. The proper measurement, it is suggested, is not how many officer are murdered in toto but how many are killed in ambushes or shot execution-style, since those are the methods that imply a shooter deliberately set out to kill a cop. In practice, it’s often tricky to tease out the motives in such attacks, because they can also include suicide-by-cop situations, people who are simply deranged, and other apolitical assaults. But even ignoring those distinctions, if you tally up such deaths in 2015 thus far, as recorded by the Officer Down Memorial Page’s running count of police killed on the job, your total will be in the single digits.
Needless to say, each of those killings is terrible for the victims and their loved ones. But they do not add up to anything like a war.
When a story catches on, it says something true about the anxieties of the people who believe and repeat it, even if the tale itself is false. So it is with the war on cops. Policemen have plenty to be nervous about—it’s still a risky job, even if it has been getting safer—so it shouldn’t be surprising if some of them perceive a patch of crimes as a portent of something bigger. Nor should it be startling that the storyline is striking a chord with the opponents of criminal justice reform, who have been on the defensive recently. And of course we all accept that some explicitly political violence against the police did erupt in two towns recently, during the Ferguson and Baltimore riots. It’s not exactly extraordinary that some Americans might suspect those melees were moments in a larger invisible assault.