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