“The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves”Logan Pearsall Smith
Part 1: Perimeter
Stomp-stomp-stomp-stomp-stomp-stomp-stomp-stomp go the boots..
A frantic whish-whish-whish-whish occurs with every stride as uniform pants brush along the hedges.
The jingle-jangle of keys and an aluminum baton hop-hop-hop on trotting hips.
“Southbound through the houses!”
“Airship, do you see my light?!”
“Give me a backup!”
Like the speed of a cheetah’s sprint, officers run hard and fast after their prey. Side-by-side and slightly offset, they use tactics often seen by predators in the wild. At times they lose sight of their intended target which causes them to slow their stride. Finally their deep heavy panting is exposed as they broadcast more information at a calmer tone.
“I need a perimeter…..”
“Suspect is wearing…”
“I need a unit to secure my shop…”
Oh the sweet sounds of those police sirens.
The sweet sound of police sirens from afar comfort all officers who find themselves in these hunts, surrounded by mazes of homes, apartments and shrubbery.
Oh the sweet sounds of those police sirens.
Sometimes they find themselves tired, out of breath, and locked in a bear hug with Satan himself. And when they hear sirens afar…
The comfort is real.
Like a child lost at Disneyland and the intensely powerful moment those watery eyes land upon the familiar faces of mom and dad. At that moment, in that split second, the child becomes whole again as the physical embrace of familiar adults creates a gush emotions and spouts tears from ducts. Why do the children cry the moment they realize they are found? Why don’t they cry before?
The fear of being lost suddenly turns into the horror of what could have been.
It’s funny how children keep it together while they are lost. It’s a sort of forced “bravery”. A survival instinct not much different from a street cop at the peak of an adrenaline rush where all of the role-playing in the academy suddenly becomes much too real.
Do animals in the Serengeti feel the same series of emotions? When a calf is separated from the herd by a pack of relentless wolves, then saved by sheer luck. Or when an injured lion has laid on her side, vulnerable and desperate, is then surrounded by hungry hyenas. Do they feel what that found child feels at the moment the hyenas are shoo’d away by the returning pride? When she learns she will live another day, albeit with death lingering by her side, is that moment of comfort as intense with them as it is with us?
Do they anguish the same?
Soon after, the roaring blades of the police helicopter thunderously chop-chop-chops the air above as it glides in low and cuts hard on a dime. The air-ship, in all her beauty, points her nose directly at the action below as it spins on its axis on a tight orbit, giving the hunters below a gust of wind which seems to fill their empty lungs. Her night-sun lights up their lives as if God Herself wished it upon them.
Finally the team surrounds the prey. Like stalking lions, positioned to pounce, out from amongst the camouflaged, tall brown grass…
The perimeter is locked.
Part 2: Hidden in the Grass
The heart of a cop will always been wrapped in chains. The loops at the end of these chains will forever be trapped in one of those familiar padlocks.
You know. The U-shaped ones.
With every hunt, the chain’s gauge grows thicker…heavier.
Like battle scars on snouts of elderly lions, these chains are worn with pride. They give a sense of status. It’s not too different from the cop-culture. Except that the scars worn by everyday coppers are hidden deep inside. So deep that the wearers themselves are ignorant to the scars that burden them. Sometimes their ignorance remains until it’s too late.
Reminiscent of lions camouflaged in that tall brown grass, while they lick their wounds in isolation, most cops are as humble as humble can be. Officers of the law are always at the ready. Constantly “In the Red” as is commonly said in the police world.
They are ready to snap and snarl for survival. This is a habitual hunt which coppers are accustomed to. But they almost always quickly and anonymously retreat back into the grass, just to tie another knot in the chains around their hearts. The hunt for criminals on the street runs congruent with the hunt within a copper’s own heart, soul and mind. They fight and tangle with the heavy rusted chains that have been tightening with knots around their hearts for years.
Radio calls, citizen flag-downs and everyday police work exposes these modern day urban hunters to death and gore on a daily basis. In a cop’s career it would be impossible to find a street cop who has NOT seen a dead baby, a gunshot wound victim taking a last breath, or a hysterical mother at the scene of a fresh suicide.
It would be impossible to come across a street cops who has not felt the adrenaline dump after they have shot another human. Or the terror when they hear their friend yelling for help on the police radio. Or the helplessness of simply having to walk away from so much daily injustices.
Cops do the impossible every single day.
They do so as they lay calmly.
Hidden in the grass.
Part 3: Inner Peace
Police officers have all the tools they need on their superhero utility belt. When they go from call to call, the options on their Sam Browne police belts are always an arm’s length away. But the tools they need to cope with the job-related emotional jolts are all but absent. Sure the resources are there. Support systems have come a long way in the past 50-years. But the support within the culture itself to actually utilize the resources falls extremely short.
And so, until a change in culture and monetary priorities are placed on the mental health of cops, they will forever be on the hunt. But it won’t be a hunt for the criminal element. Instead…
It will be an endless hunt for inner peace.
I have seen plenty of wolf hunts on NatGeo and on YouTube. Their hunt for food parallels a street cop’s never ending drive to protect the innocent. But at what personal price should they strive for this “food” they call “justice”?
As tireless as a pack of wolves hunting bison in the vast cold tundra, the hunt of a street cop is similarly mimicked within the psyche of cops across the country. However, instead of them chasing the bad guy, this unseen predator chases them instead. They remain in this constant run “southbound through the houses.”
Cops are always on a lag differential when it comes to their personal stress.
Cops will always be cheetahs on the hunt.
They will always wear their scars pridefully.
They will always be recessed amongst the tall brown grass.
One thing is for certain. Whether they know it or not, they need support.
They need to hear the sirens of their family & friends coming in from all directions.
They have the right to be found instead of being lost little children in Disneyland.
They need to be free from this forced bravery that corners them in life like that separated calf or that injured lion.
Cops will forever retreat humbly back into the grass. It is clear that with time they go from hunting evil to becoming the hunted. They are chased down by their own snarling predators within. And with those heavy chains around their hearts slowing them down, it’s only a matter of time before they fall prey to the long term stressors of police work.
Culture Change Begins with Us
In 2019 this country had 147 line-of-duty deaths. We had 228 law enforcement personnel commit suicide. This sum total of 335 is just under 2% of the approximated 18,000 LEO’s in the USA. These numbers do not include the thousands in this profession who suffer from work related depression, alcoholism, long term physical injuries and many many other ailments. (Citations will be addressed in a later piece)
When an individual walks into the police recruitment office. The whole picture of what the job entails is not fully painted. It is not a conspiracy to mislead the applicant. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Most active law enforcement personnel believe wholeheartedly in what they are saying when they are recruiting civilians.
The reality of the adverse affects the profession has on individuals is obscured. The numbers are astonishing. Putting the numbers in perspective shows just how dangerous the job is. I am working on a long piece where I put these numbers in dramatic perspective. But for today’s purpose, I only want to plant the seed of what is desperately needed: Change.
What needs to change?
- A change in the mental health paradigm of law enforcement.
- The obliteration of “mental health” as a four-letter-word.
- Cultural change amongst our own to recognize, accept and support.
Leadership From the “Bottom Rungs“
It is generally understood that therapy will not work for people unless they want the help. Although resources are plentiful for cops these days, the willingness to use those resources is basically nil. This can be for many reasons. One can be the type of personality that is drawn to this profession. Another reason can be the fact that mental health is low on the priority list for command staff.
I mean, they say they care for the troops. They blurt out statements like “Patrol is the backbone of the department.” However, actions and policies speak louder than words. Unfortunately our eardrums are blown out from those actions and polices.
My purpose here is not to attack others or to place blame. However there are some realities we cannot ignore if we are to progress. Perhaps in the future I will write a piece about those loosely mentioned policies. But for now I say that to say this…
If we cannot change the system, thats ok. There are a ton of things that need to line up before real change can be made. But there is one thing we can change and that is ourselves. It is up to us as cops to be the change we want for ourselves. We sit side-by-side in police cars and as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the line. Once we get back to the barn and unwind, it’s up to us to support each other.
- We make ourselves available.
- We actively talk about past incidents and how it made us feel.
- We provide resources for each other.
- We don’t just mention them, we look them up on our phones and send them to each other.
- We offer to go to therapy with our Brothers and Sisters in Blue.
- We speak openly about our own nightmares and anxieties.
This is how others know they are not alone.
Minimize Regret Through Positivity
We’ve all been there when one of our own dies of a heart-attack. They are either much too young or freshly retired. We acknowledged its job related stress, but then carry on as we did before.
We’ve all been there when one of our own commits suicide. We look back and all of the signs were there. We beat ourselves up for it. We tell ourselves, “I should have sent that text” or “I should have invited him over for that BBQ” or “I noticed something was off. Maybe I should have asked.”
Let’s be there for each other. Now more than ever! And lets not be there for each other simply to protect ourselves from future regrets. Lets be there for each other so that we can help someone in the present moment. Perhaps there is a chance that in doing so we can help our own personal situations.
Positivity begets positivity.
In our world, a world where every angle of our lives has the potential for long term feelings of oppressiveness, it is even more important to be actively aware of our reality. It is even more important to consciously take positive actions and support each other.
This blog entry is a generalized rant. I realize I am venting about the big picture the short comings of our profession. I am working on many blog topics where I unpack specific topics and provide links to outside resources.
Thank you for reading and supporting.