I was recently asked if I would like to start my career over again today. My immediate reply was a resounding ‘no’. When asked why, I thought of the good old days and how easy it was then. Law enforcement’s front lines today are under extreme pressures that my generation was not subjected to at these levels. Now this requires extraordinary leadership on our part to lead and shore them up.
First and foremost are the trends regarding line of duty deaths, this continues to disturb me despite the advancements in officer safety and tactics. Add in medical advances both from emergency medics in the streets and the advanced care of our trauma centers, it is alarming we are still losing fine young officers. We have advanced trauma care which pulls our injured out of the jaws of death daily. It is easy to extrapolate that the assaultive deadly culture facing law enforcement continues to swell our injured and wounded numbers. One can surmise that if not for medical advances, our toll would skyrocket.
Add up the number of hours that our officers stay in a ‘ready condition’ to respond to threats. There are increasing reports of officers and their families being targeted while off-duty. I have carried off-duty over thirty years. I know many of my colleague warriors who do the same. One could surmise that the number of hours carrying and maintaining a heighten level of awareness wears on the mind and soul. Most do this without second thought but to me it is a cumulative stress placed on the person. Many local governments still push and pursue the idealism that you must reside in the jurisdiction. The courts have handed down several cop favorable cases but still you have to go there for court, business and so forth. If you are one who resides where you work, this heightens the security worries for family safety and home security. Can you enjoy an afternoon out in the park, if you have to scan the crowd for some thug on a revenge crusade? As leaders today we must be aware of these factors and even offer training and support to officers and families. I am in no way making the comparison to our military that have been in recent war zones. However, one officer made this comparison of his current law enforcement job to his past overseas military assignments, which is frightening to ponder.
The legal system and political pressures have streamlined frivolous complaints and litigations that are hurled at our officers. The old adage and belief of if you do your job you will eventually get sued is still true today. Add in every cell phone with a camera to film your every move, so it can be slapped on the internet, edited of course to protect the perp. Then count the number of starving lawyers out there who are waiting to make you their next paycheck. Add to this the budding cottage industry of police experts on the television and lecture circuits. Most are educated nomads who have never been a cop but read some book or were influenced by some college influencing them to right the wrongs of the world, starting with cops first. To me this is an ‘occupy the courtroom with cops’ movement. We, as leaders and trainers, must train our officers to a higher level to withstand this scrutiny that is being hurled at us. Legal survival is becoming just as important as street tactics.
Now with the economy, there are other perils that wear down our staffs. Probably every state has at least one municipal entity under financial distress. Cops getting laid off. Vacancies not filled due to budget shortfalls. Police budgets shrink, training gets cut. Defined benefits and pensions are hacked. Sound familiar? I ask you, have you looked into the eyes of a young officer that is about to get laid off? If you have, then you will understand. The officer with a few years left to retirement and the pension is getting peeled back, again more issues. Today’s police leader must be the defender and the guardian of its staff. Several of my chief colleagues have admitted that they have sent more officers to employee assistance programs recently than they have in their entire career. Now, this is a good thing for we are getting help for the good guys and girls. Today’s supervisors can no longer tell an officer to ‘suck it up’ like they had to. I feel that today’s stressors and pressures are far more cumulative than the past. If you are a boss, you must educate yourself on the various methods to get support for your staff, you owe it to them and yourself. I still seek answers for the officers that have taken their own lives and what could have been done to have saved them from their demise. Today we have the best and brightest coppers, let’s invest in them for everyone’s future.
About The Author:
William L. "Bill" Harvey is a native Virginian. He served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC). Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department. He served in field operations, investigations and support services, and completed his career there as the director of training. He has published several articles in professional periodicals and has lectured nationwide. He is serving as a chief of police in central Pennsylvania area; a duty he’s performed for the past nine years. He is on the advisory board of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association and other professional associations.