Who is taking care of the cops when they are enduring hatred, betrayal and intense scrutiny? (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
With law enforcement blamed for society’s ills and the future of policing uncertain, officers face new traumas and total exhaustion.
An NYPD veteran said that the emotional toll on cops today is worse than after 9/11. Officers are taxed to the max, under constant media attack and experiencing hatred like never before.
After working 12-hour shifts with no days off, cops go home to teach school lessons to their kids, but only after they have decontaminated themselves and their equipment to protect loved ones from an enemy they cannot see. Spouses have been laid off and officers worry about making the mortgage. Cops have seen death from the pandemic firsthand and have lost colleagues, friends and family members to the virus.
Don’t forget the two-officer families who wrestle with long shifts, household chores and daycare issues. Don’t forget the line of duty deaths that cannot be memorialized properly.
On top of dealing with a pandemic and economic shutdown, add in the protests where bottles filled with concrete are thrown at cops, they are called pigs and murderers and are shoved and spit on. Businesses that supported officers have banned them from entering and denied the use of bathroom facilities. Officers’ wives, parents and children experience attacks of hatred from friends and strangers.
As all cops are unmercifully blamed for the actions and inactions of a few, officers struggle to explain to their young kids why people hate the police.
All cops are serving a sentence for a crime they didn’t commit.
COPS WORRY THAT BY DOING THEIR JOB THEY CAN LOSE THEIR JOB
Officers don’t worry about dying in the line of duty. If that happens, their families will be taken care of financially. Officers worry that despite performing their assigned duties by the book, they can still be sued, indicted, or fired. They fear not being able to put food on the table or a roof over their kids’ heads. Not to mention the humiliation and financial ruin of imprisonment. In this political climate, showing up for work can get you in trouble.
Officers worry about having to use force and being thrown under the bus by their agency and elected officials or fired before an investigation has commenced.
And then there is the talk of abolishing qualified immunity.
WHY DO WE NEED TO TAKE CARE OF THE COPS?
Policing during a pandemic is traumatic enough. With law enforcement blamed for society’s ills and the future of policing uncertain, officers face new traumas and total exhaustion. Throw out the term post-traumatic stress disorder because what cops are currently enduring is way beyond any stress known to mankind or a medical disorder.
Trauma takes a toll on the human physically and emotionally. The brain and memory encode traumatic events differently than normal events. Traumatic events get trapped within the body – the vagus nerve and individual organs. Physical symptoms of surviving trauma can mimic the pandemic virus: fatigue, stomach upset, muscle aches, shaking and chills, shortness of breath, headaches and congestion can be contributed to both. Officers may experience additional health issues like high blood pressure, ulcers, heart attacks and suicide ideations.
Unresolved trauma and stuffing or denying emotions can manifest as anger. Officers cannot afford, during this siege on law enforcement, to succumb to rage roaring out at the wrong moment while on duty.
WHO IS TAKING CARE OF THE COPS?
Who is taking care of the cops when they are enduring hatred, betrayal and intense scrutiny? When they are criticized and denounced for doing their jobs?
Under these dire circumstances, overcoming the stigmas officers face in asking for help and providing emotional support resources to officers will be a monumental task. But departments have a long history of failing to offer adequate emotional support to officers. Officers need more than wellness programs that do little to address their concerns. They want to know that their department’s administration will stand up for them if they use justified, reasonable and necessary force.
Officers are instructed to refrain from answering noncriminal calls and not to escalate situations (as if officers are the cause of such escalations). Officers face having their jobs reformed by people who have never policed and who have no idea what the job entails. That doesn’t constitute emotional support.
Agencies and the public need to wake up to the fact that unless emotional support is offered to officers, who continue to work under these stressful conditions, there will be mass retirements and resignations and recruitment will be impossible.
COPS HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF COPS
Reach out to a peer support team and talk about how you feel. Peer team members are trained to listen, validate and acknowledge your feelings, allowing you to fall apart and be honest with your feelings without fear of the impact on your career. Peer support team members, in most states, are covered by the same confidentiality protections as a doctor, lawyer, or clergy.
Talk to a peer team member and express your feelings in an environment of trust and support. Neutralize your emotions so they won’t come back to haunt you on duty or video. Don’t take what you are experiencing on the job home and take it out on those who love and support you.
If your agency does not have a peer team, seek out a team in your area or another city. A peer team will not turn you away.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND THE OFFICER NEXT TO YOU
You have to take care of yourself and your colleagues.
Eat properly. Rest when you can. Drink water to avoid dehydration during the summer heat. Don’t self-medicate with booze or junk food. Breathe deeply often to calm your mind and your emotions and reset your nervous system.
Talk to your spouse and family. Keep the lines of communication open and honest.
Care about those you work with. Be alert for signs they are burnt out or struggling. Provide support and assistance. Help other officers maintain composure and keep calm out on the streets.
Don’t take the hatred towards law enforcement personally. Officers are being used as political pawns in a vile election year.
MAJORITY OF AMERICANS SUPPORT AND RESPECT POLICE OFFICERS
A sergeant met two of his officers for dinner at an open restaurant. An older African American couple came to their table after putting on their masks. The man placed his hands on the shoulders of the two officers and said, “I paid for your meals.”
The sergeant said, “Appreciate your act of kindness, but you don’t need to do that.”
The gentleman said, “Yes, officers, I do.” He patted their shoulders, then he and his wife left.
What helps the most, officers say, is when citizens come up and express their support and encouragement.
As psychologist Erich Fromm said, “Love is the only sane, satisfactory answer to the problems of human existence.”
Time to support our officers who perform their jobs professionally and ethically every day under conditions never before seen or experienced in law enforcement.
Barbara A. Schwartz is certified as a first responder peer supporter by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) and the Law Enforcement Alliance for Peer Support (LEAPS). She maintains specializations in grief, injured officer support, suicide prevention, and traumatic stress injuries.
As a Police Explorer scout and reserve officer, Schwartz served in patrol and investigations. Her articles and book reviews have appeared in American Police Beat, The Thin Blue Line, Command, The Tactical Edge, Crisis Negotiator Journal, Badge & Gun, The Harris County Star, The Blues, The Shield, The Police News, PoliceOne.com and Calibre Press Newsline.
She maintains memberships in the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).
Schwartz has dedicated her life to supporting the brave officers of law enforcement.