Professional Demeanor Is Paramount

Frank Borelli
Editor-in-Chief
Officer.com

Before I go any further, I have to reiterate this caveat: Everything written here is the express opinion of only Frank Borelli and does not reflect the opinions, beliefs or outlook of anyone else affiliated with, employeed by or responsible for Cygnus Business Media, Officer.com, or any related "sister" site or print product.

Let me make it simpler: This is a Frank Borelli blog. It's MY opinion; no one else's and no one else holds any responsibility for what I say EXCEPT ME.

Now... Next year marks my thirtieth year of involvement in the law enforcement industry. I started out as a Military Police Officer and moved into civilian law enforcement immediately after. A lot has changed in thirty years. One thing that seems not to have changed is what I've always heard referred to as "gallows humor." Let me share an observation...

When I became a soldier I thought soldier's had to have the most twisted sense of humor I'd ever experienced. Sometimes they had to. It was a protective instrument that allowed them to emotionally handle the hardships they faced in the realities of war. Whether or not they were AT war, the possibility of it was something they had to stay emotionally prepared for. They had to harden themselves against some of the horrors they might have to face - and still function. To do so, gallows humor was a tool used to lessen the impact of those horrors.

Then I became an officer and I was sure that cops had the most twisted sense of humor I'd ever experienced. How else does one avoid the emotional trauma of marking off a crime scene where a child has been murdered? How else does one maintain emotional stability as they measure blood stains at the scene of a fatal traffic accident? How else does a cop insulate him or herself from the emotional trauma resulting from the cruelty they witness or come in contact with on various crime scenes? Laugh or cry; it's difficult to function while crying - although I've seen it done. To do the job, sometimes you just have to laugh - or collapse from the overwhelming emotional impact of reality slapping you in the face. And yes, I've seen officers collapse purely as a result of the stress they've experienced doing "the job."

Then I became a volunteer fireman and I was sure that firefighters had the most twisted sense of humor I'd ever experienced. How else does one avoid the emotional trauma of recovering burned bodies of children from structure fires? How else does one maintain emotional stability as they perform CPR on an infant, desperate to save the child, knowing full well it's a futile effort? Then those same firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, etc. go home to their own children and hug them as their mind and heart is full of the memories of the loss and suffering that another parent has just experienced. It's an emotional burden that is difficult - at best - to carry. How do they deal with that? Sometimes with gallows humor.

Then I joined a dive rescue team and, well, you get the picture.

Many professions today require we human beings to find a way to cope with emotional trauma without allowing it to impact our performance. We still have to accomplish our mission, perform our duty, answer a call, save a life. To protect ourselves we sometimes resort to gallows humor and someone outside that profession may simply think we're sick and twisted. Heck, sometimes WE think we're sick and twisted - but we go home alive, hug our spouses and children and get up the next day prepared to face the same challenges and potential horrors. We often do so under heavy criticism and without thanks. And we do it to the best of our professional ability IN SPITE of that.

Sometimes, however, if we're not careful, the gallows humor crosses the line and becomes not only unprofessional but immoral. As public safety employees we must never allow ourselves to take any personal pleasure or see any humor in the suffering of anyone. That is most difficult when applied to criminals who have taken great delight in the suffering of others. As humans we enjoy seeing justice done and it's all too easy to perceive pain and suffering delivered to a violent criminal as justice for the pain and suffering they delivered on innocents. We must be careful, we must maintain in the forefront of our minds and bolstering our motivation the concept that justice is not ours to deliver; justice is ours to support. And should justice be visited upon a law breaker in a way that causes them suffering, it is unprofessional and immoral to take delight or pleasure in seeing the delivery of such no matter how much we believe they deserve it.

When we do cross that line - and we do sometimes because we are all human and fallible - we must remember that the public we serve is watching and they will respond with outrage at such actions. They don't understand us; they seldom understand what we do; they will never understand gallows humor and we should never expect them to tollerate unprofessional or immoral behavior. We have to be better than that. We have to be professional not only on-duty but also off-duty where our behavior and speech reflect upon our profession.

Think about it the next time you're going to make fun of a criminal who "got what was coming to him." Take faith in the fact that what goes around comes around and Karma's a b*tch - but we're wrong to take pleasure from the suffering caused by that.

It's just a thought, please share yours.

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