How civilians can support cops this Peace Officers Memorial Day
We need to see all sides of the badge — see the entire range of feelings that officers go through — before we can truly support them
Editor’s Note: This week’s P1 First Person essay is from Karen Solomon, author of the wonderful book Hearts Beneath the Badge. If you want to share your own perspective with other PoliceOne Members, send us an e-mail with your story.
By Karen Solomon, PoliceOne Special Contributor
Recently — thankfully — many communities have shown an increase in support for law enforcement. Support groups have popped up all over Facebook and Twitter, celebrities are being sworn in as honorary deputies, and others are creating foundations in support of police and their families. While all of this is promising and it has given much needed encouragement to the law enforcement community, we need to work toward giving them back something that their profession has taken from them — their humanity.
We are beginning to see stories of officers saving children, buying meals for families and changing flat tires provide us a glimpse into the humans wearing the uniform. But what we are still afraid to see — hesitant to discuss — is the darker side of police work. We need to see all sides of the badge — see the entire range of feelings that officers go through — before we can truly support them.
Police are People
Somewhere in the country, an officer was vilified because he shot and killed someone. Months later, that same officer quit his job and became “used to the taste of my own gun.”
Another officer was injured in an accident on the way to the scene of the crime — he is now suffering severe traumatic brain injury and has been condemned with words such as “he’s lucky he didn’t kill someone.” He did kill someone — the person he was before the accident and a little piece of each member of his family that has to bear witness to his daily pain.
Yet another officer is feeling isolated and abandoned because of the changes she wanted to make within a department that has been functioning under the same policies for the last 30 years. In a small town old boy’s network, she is being shamed in the press for her forward-thinking policies.
PTSI, injuries and politics weigh heavily on the officer, yet we continue to turn a blind eye to them. We have made officers into robotic super heroes that aren’t allowed feelings, intellect, or human error. They have been segregated by society and stripped of their basic human behaviors.
We also have yet to admit that there are husbands, wives, children, spouses, and parents actively involved in these officers’ lives hoping to help them cope with their trauma. Families who do more than ensure they get enough sleep, a hot meal and fresh uniforms in the closet. The faces of the families are yet to be seen. As a society, we are afraid.
Seeing Ourselves in Our Officers
If we admit that police officers are human, we might see a part of ourselves in them. It won’t be as easy to take our anger out on them, to ignore their emotional pain or to give them the benefit of the doubt in a moment when a split second decision has to be made. If we allow ourselves to see them for who they truly are, we may see how very difficult their profession is.
In a bewildering twist, we see them in death. Somewhere in the world, an officer’s wife is packing her children and moving back to her home town. She can no longer live in a town where she is Officer Jones widow —she can’t hear any more about what a hero her husband was and be thanked for her sacrifice. She doesn’t want to see the looks of sadness, pity, and guilt when she walks into a restaurant. She wants to be John’s widow, she wants to remember her husband for the man he was, not just the Officer he became.
If we had seen Officer Jones as a man when he was alive, we could have given him his humanity in death. Instead, we turn out by the hundreds to mourn a man that has given his life in service to our community. We assuage our guilt by offering our prayers to the family, we can’t give them back their loved one, but we can give them our support. The officer becomes a hero and a legend, larger than life, yet still not human. The family now carries the PTSI, the politics, and the injury.
There is a gray area to police work that we can’t look at. It’s like looking directly into the sun — we are afraid we will be burned or blinded. It’s safer to look around the sun and find the warmth that surrounds it. With the attention that the law enforcement community is starting to receive, I hope that we can find the strength to look into the sun.