As summer approaches, gun violence will break out in some cities and make national headlines. Unfortunately, the news won’t report the toll this takes on police officers. Officers need constant reminders about these unique stressors.
A cop’s daily goal is to go home safe after a tour of duty. Most think of this in a physical sense and either forget or ignore spiritual, psychological and emotional wounds.
If you are blessed to work your entire career without getting injured, you are the lucky exception. Countless officers go home daily with an emotional burden that few understand.
Officers run towards gunfire when everyone is running away. Officers deal with victims who are drug addicted, drunk, shot, stabbed, raped and abused. They touch the victims to calm and save them, so they are able to hear and then write their horror stories. They search the suspects and offenders who sometimes raise the hair on the backs of their necks because the evil is palpable.
A cop’s safety is often compromised by helping people they have never met and who sometimes acknowledge their effort with insults and hate. Calls are answered regardless of color, race or religion. After rendering aid, writing a report, the officer then moves on to the next call.
The amount of emotional capital expended dealing with these sins daily is exhausting and it is killing some officers.
The violence and the resulting fallout that officers see is one part of this equation. Officers see, feel, touch, taste and smell the awfulness of these incidents. They sometimes vicariously experience the effects of grief-stricken families. All of this often causes chronic stress which can lead to overwhelming dire consequences.
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Officers are just plain tired. Unending calls involving tragedy, working long and odd hours, makes many officers return home exhausted. They have little motivation to do anything but sit in an easy chair with a beverage and channel surf mindlessly. They may be ignoring their own health and familial duties. Self-repair is often ignored and the reasons are little understood by officers themselves.
A few agencies are trying to do better. Fewer have programs and protocols in place that actually work. In Chicago, seven officers committed suicide in under a year. Three of them were on duty when they took that horrible action. I can’t help but think about the first officers on-scene: they had to deal with the suicide one of their own.
I recently spoke to a Chicago police officer who had been involved in an incident where fellow officer was murdered. The surviving cop spoke to me about the emotional toll of hearing the bullets whiz by his head. He painfully described the large amount of blood on scene and how he felt, knowing that this brother officer was dead. Any cop who has been in a violent encounter that resulted a fellow officer’s death never forgets it and is never same.
My colleague spoke about the emotional toll of the experience. He needed time off to let his mind, body and spirit unpack this critical incident. He suffered with survivor’s guilt. He replayed the incident in his head, second-guessing his responses on the scene. Sadly, such a reaction is quite normal but sadly, horribly agonizing.
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The surviving cop’s boss criticized his response, thus making this burden weigh tons more. My cop friend felt betrayed. Sadly, callous bosses seem to be more common than most expect.
I’ve known bosses who said, “OK, it’s back to work”. However, I felt especially bad for this officer because he already felt betrayed by the politicians, the media and the communities he served. He went on, “Being betrayed by your boss, who is a fellow officer, is terrible.”
Leadership must acknowledge and help officers dealing with emotional issues when they happen. Withholding support allows those issues to grow and become unmanageable, over time. Grief-stricken, officers can hardly bear the pain.
Counseling can help officers learn the skills which will help them function properly in the hell they encounter. They will be able to share this grief with families in order to divide it into manageable pieces.
Realistically, we must recognize that very few cops come through their careers, undamaged. Here are some healthy suggestions to help you manage the horrors you will or have encountered.
- Mentally reflect on your day. Recognize what parts of it were difficult – and why. Too many cops bury their feelings. Worse, they drink, eat or engage in promiscuity for the fleeting pleasures they offer for a few moments to cover them over.
- Carefully assess ALL options before you accept medication from a doctor to mask feelings. Meds should be last resort. What is often diagnosed as mental problems in reality are this: the cop is overwhelmed by daily routines and the normal problems of life. From time-to-time, we all have relationship issues, financial problems and others. If we fail to address the small issues, they grow into monsters which are difficult to slay.
- Meditate daily – download the Headspace app on your phone. The first ten sessions are free and you can play them over and over or search YouTube for meditation. There are hundreds to choose from, including religious options.
- Demonstrate that you value yourself by putting a monthly health and wellness day on your calendar which focuses on healthy pleasures. Here are some suggestions:
- A massage
- Mindfulness Mediation
- A Mani/Pedi
- A haircut and shave
- Start a new hobby, e.g. Yoga, gardening
- A good meal with or without good company
- A nature hike, or long bike ride
- An hour alone in a church
- Read a book
- Confer with a financial advisor
- Volunteer somewhere that you are appreciated
- Write a paper about the last thirty days
- Write a list of things you are thankful for
- Visit someone you’ve been putting off a needed visit
The issues facing law enforcement officers each day are exceptional. They need to be addressed routinely and often, in unconventional ways.
READ MORE: CAN BEING A NICE GUY GET YOU HURT?
The price paid for ignoring them is much too steep for our families and us.
What are you willing to do to stay healthy and safe for yourself, your loved ones and your brothers in blue?
I hope it is more than just reading this article.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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Thank you for taking the time to read this message and allowing us to share this engaging article with you. Our editor can be contacted via email with questions or input: Email Editor
Thomas Cline, MBA, MAP
50-years in law enforcement is past president of the International Association of Ethics Trainers, LETT board member, a writer/trainer at the Chicago Police Department, and a consultant. He’s authored Cop Tales! (Never Spit in a Man’s Face…Unless His Mustache is on Fire) and Psych Firefight – L E Job Satisfaction in a hostile environment. For information on training and workshops Email: Coptales@gmail.com