Presenting the year in law enforcement is not easy, there are many opinions, issues and (lack of) statistics. The number of law enforcement deaths, officer involved shootings and/or most visible incidents of the year could be compiled. That would be too easy, after all, the information is readily available and most people are already aware of it. Let’s take a look at some milestones you probably won’t see anywhere else.
Legislation has not been passed to allow police officers (and firefighters) to collect workman’s compensation for PTSD. While other members of society are able to seek treatment and collect benefits, the people who need it most cannot. First responders in many states continue to fight for benefits and treatment. PTSD and depression continue to slowly and silently wear away at the psyche of law enforcement, directly or indirectly.
Critical Incident Training is beginning to take hold although most departments around the country still do not have debriefings, training or follow-up after incidents which involve the death of an officer, the death of a citizen, dismemberment and/or other traumatic incidents. Officers are expected to get right back on the street and return to work the next day with few exceptions and little follow-up.
Disabled officers are still forgotten. Whether it be a physical or mental injury, there are still no national resources for law enforcement personnel once they are forced to medically retire. There are no monuments in their honor, no national recognition and they will be quickly stripped of the identity that has shaped their lives. No protocol to honor their service. Their plight is often considered part of the job and they are expected to walk away and deal with it on their own.
Suicide rates continue to be unknown; the data is not collected. Those responsible for collecting data on law enforcement deaths, do not consider suicide a line of duty death, even when that suicide is committed on duty. In a police station. As an effort to bring the mental health issues of law enforcement to light. Not data worthy of collection.
Social Media has provided a forum for officers to be tried and convicted with little information other than a 30 second (or less) clip. Although body cameras can be an important tool, the constant “camera in the face” that 2015 has given birth to has caused hesitation and people have been injured as a result.
Police officers break the law and aren’t held accountable. Or so one would think. This myth has been perpetuated over and over throughout 2015. What we don’t see are the hundreds of cases of officers who are tried and convicted of multiple crimes throughout the year. Don’t believe me? Daniel Holtzclaw, Michael Ackermann, Trever Blackwell, Mary O’Callaghan, Kevin Lumpkin, and many more. They’re easy to find but no one bothers to look. Not that we’re proud of the convictions, but the public perception of the lack of justice is flawed. As for law enforcement, each one of these convictions is a bigger effort that they have to put forth to regain trust. And, for every officer who is not indicted, they have to put forth twice the effort to combat the stigma.
A “war on cops” was declared, “there is no war on cops” was also declared. Someone has decided that since “only” 124 officers have died on duty in 2015 to date, there is no war on cops. War equates with death. War is actually defined as “a situation in which people or groups compete with or fight against each other”. There are groups that fight with another group of people called the police. Whether it is fighting for respect, dignity, benefits, training, the ability to do their job without being yelled at, spat upon or physically blocked, police are at war every single day. They are at war with criminals, legislature and most sadly, perception. You cannot define this war by the number of physical deaths.
Breakthrough groups have rallied around police. Despite the negativity surrounding police work, there are benefits and joys to saving lives, catching a criminal and closing a cold case. There are also the groups of people who have reached out to the police to say thank you, the ones who want to see their good deeds go viral, the ones who understand that law enforcement is like anything else, imperfect. This is the most important take away of 2015, the outpouring of love and support, no matter how small, for our law enforcement community.
In sum, there have been no great breakthroughs in law enforcement that protect the officers from the toll the profession takes on the bodies and minds of those who wish to serve the greater good; the men and women who choose to uphold the laws that have been created by society. If anything, morale is low, enrollment in the police academy lower. Critics will say that I did not cite statistics, there are none. There are no statistics on the things that will provide support, legislation and validation for the police force. There is no collection of data of suicide rates, PTSD, career ending injury and what happens afterward or the number of officers convicted of crimes.
We’ve begun collecting that data for soldiers and veterans, after many years of turning a blind eye. As the soldier waited patiently to be recognized for his sacrifice, so does the police officer. Let’s hope that it comes before it’s too late.