“I had a powerful desire to keep my community safe.”
“I see sorrow all around me; I wanted to make a difference.”
“I wanted to protect those who could not protect themselves.”
The reasons one becomes a police officer are boundless, however, most echo the same sentiment: A fervent desire to do good and make their little corner of the world a better place.
I have worked for three departments, was assigned to a multi-jurisdictional SWAT unit for 9 years and earned my Master of Art’s in Legal Studies. It is fair to say, being a police officer is more than a career choice, it’s my life.
My reasons for becoming a police officer echoed those above. I felt it is my life’s-work to help make the world better!
NOT ALL PEACHES & CREAM
Unfortunately, the media and those police “haters” would have you believe an officer’s motives are more malevolent. They have let hatred and anger demonize our heroes who wear the badge and protect us while we go about our daily lives.
Evidence of the problem is clear in the rising line-of-duty death and suicide rates. But what can we do to help?
Changes in our societal understanding of a police officer’s roll is needed.
As state governments shrunk, so did funding for government programs. This includes government programs in mental health and substance abuse. In addition, society made a concerted effort to destigmatize mental health and substance abuse issues.
The harsh reality is that people struggling with these issues do not think or act in ways that are proper in our civilized society. This is not to say that it is their “fault.” However, we cannot say their actions and thought process are the same as those of a normal person who is not struggling with mental health issues.
The result: A bunch of people are running around with untreated mental health issues and/or substance abuse issues which are often interrelated. Frequently, they are making poor life decisions which resulted in contact with the police.
FROM THE TEXT BOOKS
In Illinois, the definition of police officer (statutorily defined as peace officer) is as follows:
(720 ILCS 5/2-13) (from Ch. 38, par. 2-13)
Sec. 2-13. “Peace officer“. “Peace officer” means (i) any person who by virtue of his office or public employment is vested by law with a duty to maintain public order or to make arrests for offenses, whether that duty extends to all offenses or is limited to specific offenses, or (ii) any person who, by statute, is granted and authorized to exercise powers similar to those conferred upon any peace officer employed by a law enforcement agency of this State.
- Notice what is not in the definition of a peace/police officer?
- The definition does not talk about addiction counselor, psychology, or practicing medicine.
- One does not call a plumber to fix the electrical.
- One does not call a painter so fix your car.
- A person struggling with a mental health issue needs a psychologist or psychiatrist, not a police officer.
- A person struggling with substance abuse needs a substance abuse counselor, not a police officer.
We have set our officers up for failure, expecting those charged with upkeeping the law, to venture into social work. While obviously there is overlap, we need the right tools to fix the right issue.
To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
CHANGE PERCEPTION THROUGH EDUCATION
We live in an age where people can lookup whatever they want at the drop of a hat. They can read the law and some even get so far as to find the case law backing up statutory law. However, most do not fully understand how the two intersect and the effects they have on the justice system or their personal, individual “rights.”
All one must do to see my point in action is look at the number of people who still believe an officer MUST read you a Miranda Warning upon arrest, else making the arrest illegal.
Our society questions authority, which is healthy. But, they do so under a false assumption and understanding of the law, the consequences of violating law and the justice system in general. This is the reason the overwhelming majority of complaints against police officers are unfounded.
Most people simply do not know the law or their rights.
This sets officers up to be the “bad guys” as people continue to “know their rights” without actually knowing them.
A concerted educational movement to educate citizens about their rights and responsibilities under the law could reduce negative interactions by those who wrongly believe they are above the law. What if America’s citizens actually knew their rights and responsibilities when interacting with a police officer? Just imagine …
INCREASED POLICE OFFICER ACCESS TO MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
Every day, police officers see the evil in our society. They see the pictures the horrific pedophile took while molesting the two-year-old baby. Officers must handle outcome of every fatal DUI accident, and the viciousness one person can have against someone they “love” in each domestic violence call.
Regardless of how much of a badass any officer thinks they are, each of these events takes a toll.
Unfortunately, in our current climate, if an officer attempts to speak up about their struggles with depression, anxiety or PTSD symptoms related to the job, they are cast out as if a leper.
The result, many officers refuse to admit they have an issue and suppress their mental health issues. An officer struggling with their own mental health issues may be inadequately prepared to react appropriately e.g. hypervigilance. This may lead to increased negative interactions between the officer and the community.
We need to create a body of law, which allows for an officer to seek mental health help without creating a fear they may lose their job, livelihood and identity in doing so.
Allowing officers access to mental health resources without fear of repercussion could help in three ways.
- First, officers who are mentally healthy are better able to make appropriate life-changing decisions in high-stress situations.
- Second, an improved mental state translates to better behavior, demeanor and attitude. Simply improving the overall mental health of our police officers may equate to friendlier, more patient and less aggressive officers.
- Lastly, this could help stem the growing suicide rate among our law-enforcement brothers and sisters.
WHAT CAN I DO?
I speak to officers at all levels across the country. There is widespread belief that there is a war against police. Collectively, we feel great pain as we continue to lose our comrades to line-of-duty deaths and suicides.
Many of you who read this may be law enforcement officials in leadership positions within your departments. If not now, you may be someday.
We have sat idly by long enough while our brothers and sisters die due to the negativity spewed at us from all angles.
You may think my ideas for curbing the violence and deaths against our heroes aren’t completely thought-out or underdeveloped. If so, please develop your own plan and IMPLEMENT IT!
We must do something …
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
Jeremy enjoys hearing from his readers – EMAIL
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