Sometime after the incident in Ferguson I jumped down the rabbit hole and haven’t been able to make my way back out. I’ve looked around, there is no exit. Well, there is for me, sort of. I’m not injured, disabled, have PTSD or suffering from the absence of a career that defined me. I still can’t find the exit and believe me I’ve looked for it.
On October 7, 2015, the Washington Post ran an article entitled “FBI Director calls lack of data on police shootings ‘ridiculous’, ‘embarrassing’”. I gleefully opened the article expecting to find a ladder. Unfortunately, his definition of ‘police shootings’ and mine aren’t the same. Director Comey was referring to the lack of data surrounding police use of deadly force. Perhaps I misunderstood him, but I did not misunderstand the article.
It spoke of the FBI’s collection of “people killed by police officers”, The Summit on Violent Crime Reduction’s effort to “bring clarity to how often and under what circumstances police use deadly force” and the Bureau of Justice Statistics “exploring new methods of gathering data on deaths in custody”. This wasn’t at all what I was looking for.
There was a bit of hope in the article, California Attorney General Kamala Harris has announced the creation of a database which tracks officers killed or injured in the line of duty as well as deaths in police custody. The information dates back ten years. She’s given me hope that I can get out of the rabbit hole and take people with me.
You’re probably wondering what rabbit hole I am speaking of, it’s a hole, a purgatory, a waiting room – whatever you’d like to call it. It’s the place you can find physically injured officers, disabled officers, officers with PTSD, mental issues and, suicide victims and survivors. You’ll also find the walking wounded – wearing a uniform with scars you’ll never see for which there is no treatment. If there is treatment, some are forced to find it and pay for it themselves.
While writing my books, I have inadvertently climbed in with them and want to help them find their way out. I tried. I have found lots of statistics – “Immigrants Killed by Police”, “Fatal Encounters”, “Distraught People Deadly Results” and “The Counted” – just the tip of the iceberg. There is no shortage of statistics so show us how law enforcement has failed society. Where are the statistics to show how society has failed law enforcement?
The IACP conducted a one year study, over 18 departments, tracking LE injuries; Albuquerque, NM is trying to introduce the “Line of Duty Injury Act”; and an officer in South Carolina has launched a personal mission to get PTSD coverage for first responders in South Carolina. But where’s the data to help them in their cause? Where is the number suffering post-traumatic stress, the disabled and the suicidal for the rank and file of police, corrections, fire and EMS? Where is the data to show that it would be cheaper to provide them with debriefings, Critical Incident Stress Management training and counseling? The data that shows the number of officers who cannot get benefits after a catastrophic injury? Where is the data to show when society uses deadly force against law enforcement?
I’ve been looking and I can’t find it, I don’t believe it exists. Collecting that data and making it available is the way out of the rabbit hole for me and everyone I found in that hole. If we can collect the data that shows when officers use force, we should surely be able to collect the reverse.
My words often feel meaningless; I’ve quickly learned how powerless truth can be and how dangerous the person with a megaphone has become. I can continue to write the stories of the officers that society has forgotten, for the ones that are hoping someone sees their pain and for the families of the suicide victims, but what good would that do? They are “stories”; people don’t see it as factual information that can convince a bureaucrat that change is needed. While I begin to write my third book, I will also begin the quest to bring that data to the forefront. It’s possible, it’s realistic and it needs to be done. I’ve gathered a few friends and we’ve begun collecting the data, we’re building a searchable database so a first responder can find help in their area and, we’re going to use the information we collect to improve the well-being of first responders. In the meantime, you can find me in the rabbit hole and you can call me Alice.
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