07/28/2010

Barbara A. SchwartzLiving with the Sacrifice
with Barbara A. Schwartz

Tips for helping an injured or disabled officer

Disabled and catastrophically-injured officers feel forgotten and need support from their brothers and sisters in law enforcement

Editor’s Note: In her debut column in the Living with the Sacrifice series, Barbara Schwartz challenged officers, departments, and agencies to recognize and honor disabled officers during police week. PoliceOne would like to hear from those of you who took that challenge. Send us an email to tell us what you did for these officers.

In law enforcement, evidence is required to solve a crime, make a case, and get a conviction. The feedback PoliceOne received from the first Living with the Sacrifice column serves as ample evidence that disabled and catastrophically-injured officers feel forgotten and need support from their brothers and sisters in law enforcement. I find this disturbing and so should every cop. These officers put on the uniform and faced the same dangers and frustrations. Now, they’re living with the sacrifice. Forgetting them is a crime of neglect.

I featured Officer Rick Salter in my first column. The Houston Police Department presented Rick with a Lifetime Achievement Award during National Police Week (has your agency or department given similar awards to injured officers?). In response to that column, I heard from officers from all over the planet.

Those who had received support from their departments and colleagues were empowered. That support helped officers overcome their injuries and return to work. For those who couldn’t return to work, the support helped them adjust and live with the sacrifice.

Sadly, I also heard stories from officers — many officers — who had been forgotten not long after they were discharged from the hospital. Many were (or still are) engaged in legal battles with their agencies or governments over medical benefits they believe are due them. Imagine having to live with the trauma of the injury, then having to fight for medical benefits. That fight prolongs the trauma and post-traumatic effects to the officers and their families.

I received a touching story from a reserve officer injured in his day job that has kept him from performing as an officer. He stated that he had received little support from colleagues or his agency. He wasn’t injured on-duty, but he still had to give up his law enforcement career. Should he be forgotten?

Email feedback reminded me that not all injuries to officers are the result of actions of bad guys. I heard from an officer who had to give up his career due to back problems from wearing the gun belt and gear. He received no support from his administration. No accommodations were made to keep him working as an officer. He was told he could apply to be a dispatcher.

This officer wrote, “It just astonishes me that officers can serve 20-30 years for an agency and if they are not killed in the line of duty or retire after their ‘due’ time, they are simply kicked to the curb and forgotten about. It is devastating for an officer to be told you cannot do the job anymore, especially when they are in the prime of their career.”

That mindset needs to be changed. Injured and disabled officers can be utilized in a training capacity or even in media relations or community affairs. These jobs may be civilian, nonsworn positions, but the officer’s experience and training can be put to use for the good of the agency and the community.

Still An Invaluable Human Resource
Support is magical in its healing powers. Supporting an employee is a ‘cheap’ investment with mega payoffs. An officer who has gone through a traumatic event or injury, and who is subsequently supported by the administration and colleagues, will be the most motivated and productive employee an agency or department can find. Never discount the wisdom this officer has attained through living with the sacrifice.

To able-bodied officers, this column might come off as whiney. In my view, that attitude likely comes from ignorance. To heal from the injury, especially if inflicted through a traumatic event, an officer has to find meaning in their encounter with that injury and, if applicable, their encounter with death. They need to know that their sacrifice is considered heroic, courageous, and purposeful. They need to know their sacrifice won’t disappear from their department’s memory.

The purpose of this column is to open the eyes of agency administrators and fellow law enforcement officers to not forget those who live with the sacrifice. Equally though, the intent is to help connect injured and disabled officers with each other for support and to educate them about services available to them.

To that end, I’ve heard from a couple of groups and individuals trying to help. In particular I want to call attention to a website called www.Policevets.org, which is “building social, economic and health support systems for America's aging, infirm and disabled law enforcement officers.”

Also, injured and disabled police officers should know about the recently formed Minnesota Task Force for Injured Officers, and The Retired and Medically Unfit Western Australia Police Association, Inc., both of which have stepped up and made themselves known to me (and now, to you). Who else out there is helping these heroes?

So, what can you do?
Simply, you as an individual can do great deal to support injured and disabled officers from your agency or from your area. Here are a few suggestions:

• Start a phone chain where every week someone calls an injured or disabled officer and makes them feel remembered
• Organize a barbecue or picnic to honor them — this can be a community-wide event or just a back yard cookout
• Ask your zoo, museum, theater, or sports team to have a day where injured and disabled officers and their families are allowed free admission
• Arrange with a taxi company to provide free transportation to an injured officer to their rehab or medical appointments
• Request a business or restaurant to give a discount as a way to honor their sacrifice — many businesses do just that for active, injured, and retired military families and the time has long since come that injured officers receive the same recognition for their sacrifice
• Bring a pizza and a movie to their home and spend an evening simply visiting with them

All it takes is motivation on the part of officers and their departments/agencies to make a difference. PoliceOne would like to challenge you to come up with your own ideas, make them happen, and share them with us.

About the author

Barbara A. Schwartz retired after 30 years with NASA in Houston where she worked in Mission Control and Astronaut Training. She is a former reserve officer serving in patrol and investigations. She has been writing about law enforcement officers since 1972 and has been a contributing feature writer for American Police Beat for the past 10 years. Her articles and book reviews have also appeared in Command, The Tactical Edge, Crisis Negotiator Journal, The Badge & Gun, The Harris County Star, The Blues, and The Police News.

Schwartz earned a degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Purdue University with electives in Criminal Justice and Criminology. She helped fund her education by working for the campus police department.

Contact Barbara A. Schwartz

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