Opinion

Sen. Tillis doesn’t help police by distorting the risks they face

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis chairs a roundtable discussion on immigration reform at the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce on Monday, May 22, 2017 in Raleigh, N.C.
U.S. Senator Thom Tillis chairs a roundtable discussion on immigration reform at the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce on Monday, May 22, 2017 in Raleigh, N.C. News and Observer file photo

This editorial appeared in The News & Observer

N.C. Republican Sen. Thom Tillis recently announced his support for proposed federal legislation known as the Back the Blue Act of 2017, which would create stricter penalties for people who assault police officers.

He says his decision shows his support of the law enforcement community. Whether the bill would actually make police officers safer or not is controversial and open to debate. But that important debate has already been muddied by a lie from the senator followed by messenger-blaming and a lack of candor about the statistical underpinnings of his support of the bill.

In his announcement, Tillis said the bill was needed because “last year was one of the deadliest years ever for law enforcement officers.”

That sobering statistic is not true.

As The News & Observer and PolitiFact North Carolina pointed out in a deep review of the data: “Contrary to Tillis’ claim, 2016 saw a below-average number and rate of officer deaths compared with the last half-century.”

The data show it was actually far safer to be a police officer last year than in the 1990s, 1980s or, especially, the 1970s.

When given the real facts, the response from his office was to blame the two news organizations rather than confront the truth. The lack of candor is not only distressing but also undermines a critical issue.

As Tillis also said in his announcement, “… these men and women go to work every day not knowing whether they'll return home safely to their families.”

That is true.

How to best support them and keep them safe should be based on the facts and an honest debate, not fiction, baseless allegations and politicking from our senators.

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