U.S. Police Officers: From Protector to Needing Protection

U.S. Police Officers: From Protector to Needing Protection

Law enforcement officers in the United States live a life that only allows them to deal with the everyday problems of society with very little time, if any, to spend solving their own issues. Police officers aren’t called upon by citizens of their jurisdiction so that they can be told how wonderful they are. They are sent on calls for service because someone has a problem or worse.

Not only do police officers deal with someone else’s problems, they deal with circumstances that no one wants to deal with, that happen to occur within their cities.

If you do the math, an officer deals with 40 hours plus of drama and trauma everyday, followed by off work court time where they get to re-live the circumstances of someone else’s violent encounter or negative contact with the police.

Here is a day in the life of a Police officer:  The first order of business is briefing, which consists of discussing problem areas and the prior shift’s trials and tribulations. After briefing, the officer starts his/her shift, which typically consists of stopping a vehicle who’s occupant is unhappy. It’s not unusual for their first call of the day to range from theft to murder or perhaps even worse.  It might likely involve a decision for the officer to take the life of another person. This cycle is repeated day in and day out for as long as they wear a badge.

After years and years of seeing violence, injured people, battered people, murdered people, suicides, accidental deaths, abused children, accident victims, etc., the officer becomes a non-emotional person who is numb to their work and home surroundings. As a result, police officers typically don’t have the energy or patience to go home and deal with their own problems. All they want to do is sit on a couch, relax, and take their minds as far away from problems and decision making as is humanly possible. All they want to do is sit in their safe zone and vegetate. Can you blame them?

This may make you as it does me, a former police officer, wonder why more isn’t being done for the worn out mind and emotional state of America’s police officer.

Of course, major police departments have grief counselors who step in when an officer needs help. But here is the kicker:  the officer generally has to seek this counseling or be sent to this counseling by an untrained supervisor who doesn’t know the signs of a person in crisis. Moreover, an officer will not seek this help because if he or she did, they would be laughed out of the locker room and looked upon as weak; someone who simply can’t handle the job.

I believe every police officer should have mandatory psychiatric treatment sessions quarterly, bi-annually, whatever… just so they can digress. This treatment has to be mandatory and not accessible by the departments in which they serve, so that the officer can digress without judgment.

I’m not suggesting that events on January 21, 2013, where a police lieutenant with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department took the life of his wife, child and himself, could have been prevented. The question is, could an officer in crisis have been recognized and the steps leading to that tragic event stopped before the situation culminated in homicide?  Here was a man who took an oath to protect, 20+ years ago, and somehow, on January 21, 2013, something broke and he committed a horrific crime, a crime that is unimaginable when perpetrated by anyone, let alone a lieutenant of the police department who just days before was serving and protecting the citizens of his city from people who commit crimes similar to the one he himself carried out.

I don’t believe law enforcement is getting any easier as we progress.  Violence is at an all-time high, and doesn’t seem to be getting any better. In today’s trying times, every officer’s day seems to have increased with intensity and we can all attest to the vast escalation of violence throughout our nation. U.S. police officers are no different than the men and women in the armed forces; they are fighting a peace time war everyday, in the streets we drive and in the neighborhoods where we live. I think they need special treatment to deal with this emotional roller-coaster they ride so that they don’t suffer devastating breakdowns that have claimed so many good men and women.

In closing, my thoughts and prayers go out to the families who are suffering from the tragic event of January 21, 2013 in Boulder City, Nevada; the first responders who responded to it, and to my extended family of law enforcement officers who have been affected by this event.

Former Las Vegas Police Officer, Garth Baker

11 Responses to "U.S. Police Officers: From Protector to Needing Protection"

  1. Norm Jahn   January 27, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Everyone is hurting in one way or another because of the Walters family tragedy. I don’t pretend to know the pain immediate family and close friends are feeling…but does that not qualify some of ‘us’ to express ourselves? The only way we will learn more about these situations and try to find ways to prevent them is to dig for information…not necessarily to be released to the public! Some in the media are apparently blood thirsty but not solution oriented. Imagine what could be done with the help of the media?

    My best friend took his own life as a member of the LVMPD in 1985. We think we find reasons or somehow try to find an explanation (‘domestic issues’) but is a thorough ‘psychological autopsy’ ever done? I’ve read where military pilots (at least one of them in Colorado if I remember correctly) crash in their jets. The military investigators try to determine if the cause was ‘suicide’ or if there are other causes. They are not looking to close a ‘criminal’ case but they are digging relentlessly to try to find facts…that may never make any sense to the survivors. The level of despair and the feeling of hopelessness that a person must feel at the time of their total breakdown is something we can’t just condemn and call evil. Does anyone think that Hans went through his life planning this end? I feel guilty in many ways…but there is also probably enough guilt to spread around to many…

    Now-how about a MISSION for those of us who have survived a policing career to address the things that we can address before something like this happens. What kind of protectors are we if we are just content to blame and condemn…

    And why is there so little concern when we just have a cop or a retired cop 405? We call them ‘weak’ and move on?

    I’m in the academic world now … and I’m going to try to do what I can to honor police officers (including my friend Doug Bertrand) by trying to learn more about what is happening and take these tragedies to make some improvements. And I’ll never forget the honor that it was to know these people and work with them!

    Reply
  2. Fred Castle   January 26, 2013 at 12:38 am

    Garth,

    I want to thank-you for having the courage to step out on the edge and write this article on a very important and difficult issue. This is a serious problem within our honored profession. More officers every year are killed by their own hands than the combined totals of attacks from violent offenders and vehicle accidents.

    In an article from Force Science Institute:

    “Policing,” writes Dr. John Violanti, one of the leading researchers of law enforcement stress, “is psychologically stressful work filled with danger, high demands, ambiguity in encounters, human misery, and exposure to death.”
    “For a significant number of cops, the worst part of the job will likely be its long-term negative impact on personal health and wellbeing, ranging from heart problems to cancer to suicide as identified in recent research.”

    Throughout our careers we train hundreds, even thousands of hours in tactical training, self defense training, firearms training, and EVOC. Many of us are provided or purchase on our own the most advanced weapons and tactical gear. Many departments mandate every officer complete a physical fitness exam every year. The exams include a number of tests and observations to help screen for diseases, determine potential health risks and to encourage healthier living. We do all this so we give ourselves the best chance to live the longest, healthiest, and most enjoyable life possible.

    But we are missing the mark on what is killing us the most. Our brothers and sisters in law enforcement taking their own lives! Speaking from my own experience we do not train or expend the time and energy to confront this real issue that could occur to our own self or one of our partners. If we are going to seriously work towards insuring officers do not have to suffer from stress causing health disparities, depression, PTSD, and suicide we must start having honest, blunt, and open conversations. Your courage to write this article is a great step towards this. Thanks again.

    Reply
    • Garth   January 26, 2013 at 9:50 am

      Thanks Fred! I spent 20 years helping the citizens as police officer. Now I am going to spend the next as a citizen helping America’s police officers.

      Speaking of helping I will be MCing the Police Unity Tour Benefit Concert featuring the band Crossfire here in Las Vegas February 8th 2013. Let’s make this a record breaking year. You can pre-order your tickets by going to http://www.garthbakerlive.com

      Reply
  3. Sam   January 25, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I think the article is outstanding and should be posted for all officers to read, regardless of their situation.
    Also this Lisa is fine too hard vitality mean a 24 year career as if that somehow made her an expert.
    I know my department would not appreciate it at all for signing the blog like an official form from a detective.

    Reply
  4. Maggie Holmes   January 25, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Garth Baker, this is (sadly) true, as you know far too well. I want to thank you for writting it so well. I hope more people understand now what they may not have thought about before. It’s hard when the public has a “hate you” attitude until they need you, then, it’s love and thank yous all around. I cannot thank you enough for getting this out there, for all of us.

    Reply
  5. John Abel   January 25, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Lisa,
    I do not think Garth is saying that all cops are ticking time bombs. I think what he is saying is very similar to what Lt Col. Grossman speaks about. I am glad that you have served 24 years as a LEO and are happy and healthy but not all officers are as lucky as you are. It seems like you grew up in law enforcement from a young age, so maybe that prepared you for a career in law enforcement. I have only been an officer for about six years and I have been in two officer involved shootings. My last OIS happened a week after my daughter was born and I watched my best friend and partner come close to losing his life. This event has effected every aspect of my life and I have sought the kind of help that Garth talks about in this article. I’ve almost quit a couple of times and almost lost my marriage as well because of symptoms of PTSD. I am happy to say that I am back on the right track thanks to understanding that I needed help but I was very afraid of the stigma placed on me by other officers who thought I had lost it. This stigma I feel causes officers to not seek mental health professionals when they need it. Every 24 hours a law enforcement officer commits suicide. I would like to think that they could have been helped even of they didn’t seek it themselves. I realize that much of what we do as cops is mundane but I’m out there on the streets every night and every time I get dispatched to a domestic disturbance my adrenaline starts to flow because I of the unpredictability of these types of calls. Also, what we see as mundane the general public does not view as mundane. These are the same people who call police to tell their neighbors to turn down their music. We see many aspects of our job as mundane because we deal with them every day. There are many officers like you who are happy but there are many like me who seek help and there are many like me who do not seek help when they need it.

    Reply
    • Lisa   January 25, 2013 at 2:27 pm

      John,
      If you felt judge by your fellow officers, I am sorry. Not every OIS is the same nor does it effect everyone the same. I will not judge you. Back seat quarter backing is common, mainly because many cops are not sure what they themselves would do in a shooting. We second guess ourselves in our own shootings and we realize we are mortal and not super humans. I am glad you sought help.
      I was in patrol for 15 years before becoming a detective. I trained for 8 of those years. I saw men and women quit because they realized this job may be more then they are willing or able to put out. And that is also normal and ok. Better to recognize it early on then before it is too late.
      The rush that we feel prior to an unknown call means we are getting physically prepared. Maybe this is partly fear but that isn’t that the true definition of bravery. I loved patrol and respect everyone who does this job. It is a shame that so many officers choose to end their lives but did you know we are not the profession on the top of that list? My point is that we do choose when to to talk to a friend, a spouse or a professional. We must recognize personality changes in someone and be “man” enough to ask them in private if we can help. We have to look after our extended family of blue. But to mandate psychological evaluations on a regular basis? There are s many reasons this could back fire and I can’t even begin to tell you why. Did you know the standard psy eval that we currently take was created to identify schizophrenia? Do you know studies show that most officers would fail that test later on in their career? Why? Because the questions that determine paranoia would rule you and I out of a job. We are cops. There is a reason we are hyper vigilant. After my own OIS, the department shrink asked me about a surgery I had that he was planning to have. Then he released me back to work. Really? I can also tell you after investigating hundreds of suicides, some family and friends saw it coming and others did not. We reveal as much as we are willing to those around us. It is important to keep positive and have interests outside of what we do and have friends outside of what we do.
      This job sucks only as much as you let it or listen to stuff that justify..well very little.
      Peace my friend. Stay safe.
      Lisa

      Reply
      • John Abel   January 25, 2013 at 9:49 pm

        Lisa,

        I actually thought about what direction department’s would go in if mandatory psychological evals were ever mandated. What do you do if an officer is deemed psychologically unfit for duty? Firing them would be sacrilegious. When the deputy chief came to visit us on Monday, he said that we as officers need to do a better job at taking care of each other and I think he is right. Instead of placing a stigma on an officer for needing help, we should accept that they need help and accept that this job messes some people up more than it does others. We are good at solving the problems of others but horrible at solving our own.

        Reply
  6. Lisa   January 25, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Garth,
    It would be easier to agree to disagree if you kept your personal observations about my life out of your post. I love my family, my friends, my church and my life. I love my job and my career of 24 years. You are no more qualified to make this judgement then a non LE person is to write about my work and what I do.
    Having said that, I have equally been supported in my views on this topic. My point was that you have grouped us all into a category that provokes the interest of people who like drama and added to the negativity and apathy that so often makes this job more difficult then it has to be.
    Although last weeks tragedy, was horrific and many feel something could have been done, it is possible nothing could have been done. But this isn’t most of us or even some of us. It is a small percentage of us, in this or any other profession. After 24 years,
    I will continue to serve my community with pride and integrity.
    I am not alone.
    Det. Crane

    Reply
  7. Garth Baker   January 24, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    I feel I owe this response due to the women and men of law enforcement who have reached out to me today with compliments. To your comment of This article “is exaggerated and does a disservice to police” …No, this article is completely pro police and meant to advocate for the officer. Also no where did it say a shrink would decide whether or not your are suited for the job, in fact it said to “digress without judgement,” so that if an officer is in crisis he or she could be recognized and helped before it is too late.

    In response to you ” generally happy, healthy love my job comment..If this were true, you wouldn’t have turned to NEGATIVETY you would have seen the POSITIVE and responded as the 100’s of officers through out the nation did.

    I also want to thank you Lisa for doing what you do everyday as a sworn peace officer and putting yourself out there to make our community safer.

    Garth Baker

    Reply
  8. Lisa   January 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    Although I won’t disagree that the job of a police officer can take its toll on people at times, I don’t think we are all a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. This article is exaggerated and does a disservice to police by giving the public a sense we are all going to eventually act out less we seek help. I have been a cop for 24 years. I have investigated over 1000 deaths and been in a shooting. I have buried co workers and counseled grieving families. I am generally happy, healthy and love my job. I am from a family of cops and all of them put in 30 or more years of service. Not one of them “lost it”.
    Many of my friends have retired with long careers. All sane.
    Now let me offer some statistics. Per Police in America out of over 26,000 calls for service, only 19 percent involved crimes and 2 percent were violent crimes. Most of what we do is rather mundane and not made for TV (yawn).
    Bottom line is, healthy cops seek out help from loved ones and friends. Seek professional help when needed. They have outside activities and hobbies and love what they do.
    I don’t think I need to see a shrink every year to to tell me if I am suited for this job. I know I am.
    Detective Lisa Crane
    LVMPD

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.