Defending The Inner Police Officer
by Garth Baker
A recent study showed that fifteen to eighteen out of one hundred men and women in law enforcement are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with about twenty-five more suffering from a variety of other anxiety disorders. These disorders are compounded by the strained relationships at home and the fact that some may be facing divorce.
Other officers are struggling from sleep disorders brought on by shift work and the time they must spend appearing in court. Some have not only taken to medicating with alcohol, but also with the pain killers they have obtained for work-related injuries.
This is where we should turn, not to quarterly defense tactics, but to the real issue that is killing America’s police officers: mental health problems. Yes, I know this is where some officers will stop reading, maybe even comment on how stable they are; but more and more importantly, this is where the person who is in need of help KEEPS READING.
Let me give you some statistics:
2012- 126 police suicides; average age 42-years-old; average of 16 years on the job
2012- Police officers killed in the line of duty: 74 (murdered)
Although the politics of law enforcement and the briefing room administration chatter says, “We care about you and your emotional well-being,” the truth is, if you have an issue, they will fight you both tooth and nail to do everything possible to deny your claim.
No matter how many guns, how many knives, or how much tactical gear the officer carries everyday, there isn’t a piece of gear to protect the mind. How do we develop a bullet-proof mind? That is a question that plagues many and isn’t easily answered. How does a police officer prepare to see a child that has been murdered or an innocent lady who has been brutally raped or a mass killing of children? I don’t believe there is any possible was to prepare but there is a way to repair, and that is through psychological treatment.
Remember: The officer faces physical dangers every day, but now they are facing it when he or she is suffering from stress; stress like a failing marriage, lack of sleep, financial stress, anxiety, work-place drama, a violent call for service that the officer hasn’t been able to let go, and so on. Will that officer be able to perform at peak ability when the focus is elsewhere other than being vigilant to his or her surroundings? This leaves the officer on the edge of disaster.
It’s always easy to say, “Forget what is going on in your life and focus on what is at hand,” but stress isn’t just turned off and will always get in the way of good, sound judgment. PTSD shouldn’t be looked at as being linked to a single event. It can be linked to a series of traumatic events over a period of time. PTSD is not reversible but it is treatable as long as it’s discovered. Some officers might not even know they suffer from it until one day they react to something in a manner that is not normal, like becoming tremendously upset over something that is very minor in nature.
Where do we go from here?
These officers need to be treated, not by request, not by admission, but by a real effort of the departments to ensure that officers, including both those who admit need and those who deny it, get help. We have to take a psychological exam to get hired when we haven’t seen or been involved in some of the horrendous events we are placed in over a short period of time as a police officer. Where is the follow up? Why isn’t there something in place to help make sure the officer isn’t in crisis and near self destruction as his or her job continues down the road?
It’s time that the officers who keep us safe are, in turn, kept safe from what society requires them to deal with.
Those who deny there are any problems have a lot of company, but they have failed to recognize and help the many among them who are dying by their own hand.