Work-related injuries can be devastating, especially for law enforcement officers — for whom even seemingly minor injuries can be career ending.
Most officers think about the dangerousness of the job. They understand there is a chance they may not come home. This is a reality of police work, but statistically speaking, officers have a better chance of being injured or assaulted on the job.
Are you prepared physically, emotionally, and psychologically to deal with a work-related injury? Are you prepared to deal with a catastrophic injury? How would your life change? How would an injury affect your family and your fellow officers? Are you really prepared for how your life may change? The truth: probably not.
Realities of the Profession
Most of us don’t want to deal with those what-if scenarios, because it is human nature to believe “It can’t happen to me.”
But sadly, it can and does happen. Just ask former Sergeant Jon Brough (Belleville, Illinois) and former Officer Mike Kralicek (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho). Both officers were shot and catastrophically injured in the line of duty.
Each sustained injuries so severe that they nearly lost their lives. Their lives were spared, but sadly, their careers were cut short.
Despite the tragedy, the injuries, and the pain, these men are some of the bravest, most courageous men I have ever met. But don’t think for a minute that they did it all by themselves. They were able to overcome many obstacles because they were trained to fight and to win. That is what warriors do. But warriors also need the support of family and friends.
Families are usually supportive; one thing Jon and Mike have in common is a caring, compassionate spouse who acts as his full-time caregiver. But bonds with friends and fellow officers often come to an end. Not abruptly, but phone calls and visits will eventually fade away.
Jon has a great support system of family and friends who have never forgotten him, but many of his fellow officers fail to keep in touch. Some fail to keep in touch because they were not close before the incident and others because the incident brings up too many bad memories.
Jon’s working relationships were close, but they were centered on police work. Very little time was spent off-duty with fellow officers, because Jon was going back to school to complete his bachelor’s degree in Administration of Justice, working overtime, and raising children. Jon misses the camaraderie of sharing stories with fellow officers about what was going on in town. It would mean so much if fellow officers would stop by and keep him in the loop — it would give him a big emotional boost.
Mike’s support system consists of his wife and children. Friends and fellow officers who were at Mike’s bedside right after the incident have stopped calling and coming by. Eventually, Mike had to make new friends. It wasn’t like Mike had lost his sense of humor — it’s that officers were afraid of facing their own mortality.
This isn’t about officers injured in the line of duty. Rather, this is about meeting the needs of injured officers and the importance of brotherhood and sisterhood in times of tragedy and loss.
The Importance of Brotherhood and Sisterhood
The brotherhood and sisterhood that bonds officers together is stronger than many other shared bonds. Oftentimes, officers give up old friends after joining the force, bonding with those who have similar interests, ideals, and shifts. Old friends often become distant memories, while fellow officers (especially those on your shift) become the new circle of friends.
The special bond shared by cops should never be severed because of injury or an officer’s inability to return to work, but the sad reality is that this happens far too often. Knowing an officer would lay down his or her life for you and that you would not hesitate to do the same says a lot about the men and women who wear the badge. Many would die for their fellow officer, but you have to learn to live for them as well. You have to make them a priority. You have to let them know they matter and that you care about them unconditionally.
A career-ending injury does not mean an officer is no longer a cop. It may mean that the injured officer will no longer work in the same law enforcement capacity, but we should never forget — once a cop, always a cop. Failing to maintain the brotherhood or sisterhood can contribute to emotional issues for officers who believe no one cares or that they have been forgotten by their fellow officers.
Sometimes, after an injury, it is not necessarily the relationships that are missed, but rather, the way officers communicate and share information. Officers are privy to so much information and insight that taking this component away can be devastating. Not keeping them in the loop can make them feel like outsiders.
Get Over It!
My travels have allowed me to speak intimately with injured officers and their families. Time and time again, these officers tell stories of feeling like departments and fellow officers have forgotten them. They feel as though they are no longer important or that they no longer belong to the brotherhood or sisterhood. Some of the injured officers even believed their physical disability or appearance might be too much for others to deal with.
A common consensus shared by many of these disabled or injured officers to their fellow officers was “Get over it!”
I’ve been asked how to deal with a fellow officer’s injury. Many officers relay a similar message: “I don’t want to stick my foot in my mouth.”
“I don’t want to upset them.”
Let me reassure you. It won’t be the first time you stuck your foot in your mouth and I am pretty sure it won’t be the last. So again, get over it! We are talking about meeting the needs of injured fellow officers, not worrying about feeling uncomfortable, not knowing what to say, or feeling uneasy. How would you want to be treated? Injured officers don’t want pity; they want respect and they want to be treated with dignity. They want to know they still matter and that fellow officers still care.
Being injured does not mean you are no longer a cop. It may mean you can no longer work, it may mean you can no longer work in full capacity, or it may mean you have to retire early. But it does not mean you are no longer a cop.
It also does not mean that you no longer have a sense of humor or that you won’t be the same old you. Things may be different, but injured officers still have emotional needs that need to be met. Some of the best people to meet these needs just happen to be your fellow officers, because as Mike Kralicek has said, “Individual people are capable of loving — a department is not.”