Photo credit: Peace Officer Ministries, Inc.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls, and doesn't have another to lift him up... If a man prevails against one who is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12)
The passage above speaks to the value of companionship or friendship. God designed us as social beings and those who do or have done law enforcement know the importance of teamwork and camaraderie. We know the importance of having back up. As God’s people we encourage one another to mercy, love, and good works. Two or three people bring enjoyment to work and support one another. Together, they reap greater blessings.
During my career in law enforcement I was involved in several incidents which, as I look back, could be classified as critical incidents including a traffic stop where one of the officers who came to back me up ended up having to shoot the suspect I had stopped. My brother, who was on the same department as I was, became involved in a critical incident where he thwarted a robbery in progress and had to shoot the ‘bad guy.’
For him, it turned out to be a life-changing event, even life-changing for our family. We are a law enforcement family, our father is a retired officer, our sister spent some time as an officer, her husband is currently an officer, my wife’s brother is an officer ... you get the picture.
Yet, it was difficult for us to walk together with my brother as he dealt with the after-effects of the incident. Frankly, we just didn’t know what to say or do. Our department had a pretty good psychological services section – but it wasn’t quite enough. I wish we would have had a vibrant chaplaincy program to help us. And by us, I also mean the family that was our department too.
Below is a list of ten ways in which you can help uplift the officer in need. (I wish I would have had a list like this so I could have been a greater help to my brother.) Here, are some steps to help the officer regain his spiritual tactical advantage. This is very practical spiritual warfare which can be waged on behalf of that officer who needs the encouragement, the comfort, and the security of true friendship and camaraderie; the spiritual back up they will need in the aftermath of a traumatic and/or critical incident.
1) Speak Well – “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)
Words can build up or tear down. In the aftermath of an OIS, Officers involved in the incident should be greeted by chaplains, peers, and their commanders with words of encouragement that show concern, care, and support. “I’m glad you’re okay” will go a long way toward reducing the tension the officer is under. (Also, cf. Romans 14:9; Romans 15:2; Ephesians 4:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
2) Employ Discretion – “Stop trusting in man, whose breath is in his nostrils; For of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22)
Forego the hero worship. The officer who did the shooting may not feel so heroic, especially if a life was lost. Also, don’t demean the suspect who precipitated the shooting. Let the officer process and come to terms with what has happened; especially his own mind-set toward the suspect. (Also, cf. Isaiah 57:15, 66:2; Proverbs 5:1-2; Colossians 3:2; 1 Peter 5:5b-6)
3) Don’t be the Comedian – “The lips of the wise spread knowledge; Not so with the heart of fools.” (Proverbs 15:7)
It will be tempting to bring some levity to a seemingly unbearable situation. Officers often use “dark humor” as a useful way to cope with the daily mayhem and foolishness they see. But in the aftermath of a critical incident and/or OIS you need to be aware of what the effect of this so-called “cop humor” might have on the involved officer. Calling an officer “Crash Bandicoot” after a serious accident may seem funny to you – but probably not to him. (Also, cf. Proverbs 10:21, 15:4; Colossians 4:6)
4) Don’t be the Monday Morning Quarterback – “Don't grumble, brothers, against one another, so that you won't be judged. Behold, the judge stands at the door.” (James 5:9)
You weren’t there to make the call; you didn’t see the incident unfold as the involved officer did. You might think that you would have done something different, but can we know that for sure? We can’t really know how we’ll act in a life-threatening, split-second, decision-making incident until we’re in one. Second guessing doesn’t do anyone any good. So, you should also discourage the involved officer from second-guessing themselves. They probably had to make that split-second decision with a minimal amount of information. Debriefing to hone and improve tactics is one thing, but second guessing now could lead to perilous indecision the next time out. (Also, cf. Philippians 2:4; James 4:11; 1 Peter 3:8, 4:9)
5) Touch Base – “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven ... A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing ... A time to keep silence, And a time to speak ...” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 5b, 7b)
Sometimes, because of the necessary investigation of the incident, officers are ordered to not have contact with the involved officer. But, avoiding the officer after the critical incident can foster a feeling that he is guilty of some wrongdoing. This can exacerbate his loneliness and anxiety (which are natural reactions in the wake of a critical/traumatic incident). Even if you cannot discuss the incident; even if you are unsure of what to say, making contact – physical contact – a handshake; a hug can go a long way in showing your support. (Also, cf. Romans 12:13; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Peter 5:14)
6) Offer Your Unique Understanding – “All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8)
We in law enforcement can look at each other and say, “I know what you know, what I know, that you know ...” Yet, if you have been in an OIS or other similar critical incident, you have an understanding that others don’t. You have the opportunity to show real empathy and share your experience. You can help the officer to see that what he is thinking, feeling, and doing is normal. If he is experiencing some difficult reactions, you can assure him that he is not crazy. Instead he is reacting in a normal way to an unusual and extreme incident. It would also be appropriate to share what counseling, if any, you pursued. This can ease concerns about going to the “head doctor.” (Also, cf. Zechariah 7:9; Romans 12:15; Ephesians 4:32)
7) Give Honor and Respect – “Pay to all what is owed to them ... respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:7)
The officer who has come through an OIS or other critical incident and has survived deserves to be given honor and respect. This should be done in an appropriate time frame as well. The officer should not return to work after an extended time off only to unceremoniously find a certificate and medal in a manila envelope in his mail box. The officer should be publicly praised as part of a department’s awards ceremony. What he had to do was not a ‘necessary evil’ but was a ‘necessary good in the face of evil.’ Failure to properly acknowledge his good work fosters resentment and acrimony. (Also, cf. Proverbs 3:27; Galatians 6:10; Hebrews 6:10, 13:16)
8) Promote Dialogue – “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
This is less about the act of talking than it is about not allowing the officer to remove himself from friends, family, work, and from the world.” Left only to his own thoughts about the incident can get overwhelming especially as they intrude on his daily activities and thoughts. You may not be able to talk about the details of the OIS, but you can ‘lend an ear.’ You can actively listen without judging, letting the officer do a ‘data dump’ about what he is thinking and/or feeling. The incident has the capability of cluttering the officer’s emotional and spiritual closet. So, helping him to unburden himself from the emotional junk by encouraging him to talk and by being an active listener can be a great benefit. (Also, cf. Proverbs 18:13; Ephesians 4:1-3; Galatians 6:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14)
9) Be Genuine – “Let love be genuine.” (Romans 12:9)
More literally, in the original language, it reads, “Let love be without hypocrisy” (hence, genuine, sincere). Police departments can sometimes be a hot bed of gossip and hearsay. Our involvement with the officer dealing with an OIS or other critical incident has to be for his good – not to gather information. His ‘trust factor’ will already be brought lower than normal and so, sincerity in your care is paramount. Here, chaplains can gently remind the officer that there is the shield of confidentiality under which you work. Sometimes you won’t have the words to say – so say that. Let the officer know that you are as nonplussed as he is but that you are there to walk with him through the valley he is encountering. (Also, cf. 2 Corinthians 8:7-8; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2; 1 Timothy 1:5)
10) Get Backup – “For while we were yet weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man. Yet perhaps for a righteous person someone would even dare to die. But God commends His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
So often, for officers, the word help is to be banished from their vocabulary. Officers will not hesitate to respond to a ‘Signal 13 - officer in trouble’ call; they will risk life and limb to respond to that call to save another officer’s life, even if it means getting covered in blood, sweat, and vomit. However, admitting any kind of ‘mental or emotional weakness’ is a different ball game. Help becomes a sullied word.
But the fact is, we all need backup and needing it for our mental, emotional, and spiritual needs is no different than needing it physically. Encourage the officer to seek and obtain the help he needs. There is no shame in calling for backup.
You can also help the officer by embracing the paradox that it is through our weakness that we can experience God’s power. Christian chaplains, then, as the appropriate opportunity presents itself, can share that Jesus, the ultimate peace officer, suffered through the most critical incident by clothing himself in the uniform of human flesh, perfectly followed God the Father’s standard operating procedure for life that we could not, and on the cross, took on the punishment – the bullet – we deserve. He took on and defeated the ultimate bad guys of sin, death, and the devil. Jesus died, not for righteous people or for those who helped Him, but for sinners – those who were blind, dead, and enemies of God. The backup He provides is the grace we so desperately need. (Also, cf. John 15:13; Romans 8:38-39; 2 Corinthians 8:9, 12:9; Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 Peter 3:18)