It’s that time of the year again – Police Memorial Week. It’s a time when communities and the nation’s law enforcement formally remember those fallen servants who have given their final measure. When events across the country celebrate the lives, dedication, and heroism of those who have sworn to uphold the constitution on home turf.
Modern law enforcement is a delicate and ever-shifting balance of priorities. It is a balance of community service with cooperation, often with a degree of appeasement. Officer safety, and budgets. Open information, and common sense operational security.
In an environment when daily headlines scream that we are at war, the same headlines will preemptively limit and judge the protectors of order with methods that resemble anything war-like. Ideally, political correctness which is counter-productive to the well-being of society should be called political incorrectness. If something is right for the law enforcement system which is tasked with service and protection of community values, shouldn’t it be that whatever is correct for the police is politically correct for the community, and vice versa?
Of course the reality, introducing human dynamics and the balancing acts mentioned above, is different. And maybe it should be, and maybe for good reasons… In this kind of performance there can be only two directions which dictate the right thing. Solid and reliable leadership and rank-and-file who are willing to stand up for their own.
It should not be surprising that many military veterans turn to public safety and law enforcement as their career. It seems like those who step up, always step up. But while the US military has recognized and attempted to address the scars of military service, implemented formal programs to deal with post-traumatic stress, and more so acted proactively to prevent the years old statistics, law enforcement has all but openly refused to deal with the same issue.
During memorials across the country, few if any names will be read of cops who committed suicide, and fewer admissions will be made that their choice resulted from a career stagnated by denial.
From the time of recruit academies salty and seasoned instructors will often mention that the profession of law enforcement is “second only to…” or “has a rate of…” when describing the challenges of the career associated with suicide. Looking back, some of those statements seem like heroic claims. But this is not how any career field, any family treats their heroes.
The same academy classes will teach green horn recruits how to do everything they need, give them skills to administer life-saving measures to save others and more recently themselves, encourage them to run into danger… But few, and none that I know of, will tell those who are about to hit the streets how to survive their own internal battles, where to turn for help, or more importantly – that it’s ok to get help. And so we continue to lose cops to suicide at a rate not officially monitored by any one organization.
We place them on leaves while administrative department matters get sorted out, and allow little to no communication. We leave them alone while the media bashes, friends wander, and limit every reasonable option they need to stay and win.
It is an approach, which if applied to the community, would never be accepted. It’s a double standard which is unacceptable. Is it a wonder that in addition to a current socio-political dynamics, the way in which we approach ourselves is turning off potential applicants?
As in the veteran community, the drive to address the problem of police suicide must start and stay with the peers. The colleagues, grunts, pavement-pounders, team members, who know what it is. A lot, if not most, have said something or done something already, but it is a continuous process.
If we are to seek professionalism and self-improvement in training, in cultural awareness, in communication skills, then taking care of ourselves cannot be left to after-the-fact coping mechanisms alone. It makes no sense that the community service is better achieved when no resources are offered to help the community servants. A true militarization of police has to be the case here, by adopting what has worked for our military and veteran communities, and finally working together to apply lessons learned.
According to Badge of Life, a police suicide prevention non-profit, 106 cops took their own life in 2016. The number has been above 100 since 2008, with 2009 seeing 143. The underreported factor is unknown. Badge of Life reports that “for every police suicide, almost 1000 officers continue to work while suffering painful symptoms of PTSD.”
Part of the job, that’s what they pay us for, right? How many of those officers are also veterans? I challenge other law enforcement training programs and initiatives to officially recognize and include measures to give attention to this problem. If you’re on the job right now, you know who and how, can make things happen to drop these numbers. At one point someone thought it was outrageous to give cops tourniquets.
I mean, we had to recognize the need, spend money, change the training, and oh, remember when we saved some lives? Now it’s harder to find an agency which doesn’t issue every cop a tourniquet. In memory of our fallen brothers and sisters, the problem of law enforcement suicide needs a tourniquet of its own. As in most things, the change is cultural, but it is also at a level where most change is done and done right. With the people who are out there day in and day out, and without question.
Several organizations have dedicated themselves to being viable and dedicated resources, often because their members know the issue first hand. Please take a minute to research and make readily available their information. Many offer well-being options to simply detox and find a new outlook.
Badge of Life www.badgeoflife.com
The Gallant Few 1-800-273-8255
Project Blue Light local chapters
Code 9 Project 929-244-9911 www.code9project.org
Sheepdog Impact Assistance 417-812-6035 www.sheepdogia.org
Safe Call Now 206-459-3020
Operation Restore 813-765-1853
California Peer Support Association www.californiapeersupport.org