Bad Things Happen To Good Cops

"Police officers do not like to admit they are hurting." "The notion of becoming a victim is contrary to their profession."

Within the law enforcement community, unlike most other occupations, a unique bond exists among police officers. A strong sense of camaraderie prevails and police officers view themselves as a tight-knit family. Their profession exposes them to high risk and grave danger. Consequently, when a police officer is injured or killed in the line of duty the impact is profound, and its effect strikes to the core of their individuality and their role as police officers. A universal understanding exists among police that they are part of a brotherhood and, when something bad happens to an officer, they feel the concern, pain, sorrow, and grief that penetrate their world. Craig W. Floyd, Chairman and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund recognizes, "While the number of officers killed in the line of duty has generally declined in recent years, the fact that one officer is killed every two-and-a half days in our country is a sober reminder that protecting our communities and safeguarding our democracy come at a heavy price."

  • In 1998, a gunman killed United States Capitol Police Detective John Gibson and Private First Class Jacob Chestnut, while on duty at the United States Capitol.
  • In August 2003, Montgomery County (MD) Police Officer Kyle Olinger made a routine traffic stop that changed his life. After pulling over a vehicle, he was shot on the scene and was left with a .32 caliber bullet lodged in his spine that resulted in him being paralyzed and in a wheelchair. He was told he would likely never walk again.
  • In June 2005, Prince George's County (MD) Police Corporal Steven Gaughan was shot and killed following a routine traffic stop when he pursued a suspect on foot.
  • In May 2006, Detective Vicky O. Armel and Master Police Officer Michael Garbarino of the Fairfax County (VA) Police Department were shot and killed in the parking lot of Sully station by a heavily armed 18-year-old, Michael Kelly, who subsequently killed himself.

In the above-described incidents, the officers are victims. However, police officers do not like to be labeled with this term. Joseph A. Rollo, Director of Psychological Services for the Prince George's County (MD) Police Department states, "Police abhor the sense of being a victim." He explains the notion of becoming a victim runs contrary to their profession and training that is geared towards taking control. Mr. Rollo says, "Where deadly force is used, we work to restore a sense of control. With police, it is a process that needs to happen more quickly, and it can extend to family members."

Mr. Rollo relates that police are stronger, recognize threats, and are more vigilant. He states, "When something breaks that down, it can be debilitating. They also rely on the notion of brotherhood/sisterhood to provide back up. When there is a threat to that, it challenges the notion they are invulnerable."

Ms. Shirley Gibson, the Immediate Past President of Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), concurs with Mr. Rollo concerning the fact that officers do not perceive themselves as victims. She states, "When shots are fired, they run towards gunfire--not away from it. Law enforcement is a calling that these men and women answer to and are so committed to that they would never doubt they could be there to take care of a situation." She acknowledges that the badge officers wear was, at one time, looked at as a shield but now is viewed as a target.

Former U. S. Capitol Police Chief and current U. S. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, Terrance W. Gainer, also understands the critical issues that surround line of duty deaths. He states, "Police officers do not like to admit they are hurting" and he admits, "Nerves are pretty raw." Police chiefs face challenging times. Gainer states the key is having a command environment that permits sharing when an emergency is not taking place. He comments, "It doesn't all magically happen after an incident. It has to be a pattern of practice of the department."

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