This morning I had a conversation with a retired police officer. He was friendly, the conversation was light hearted; he smiled and laughed a lot and yet I could still detect the slight sign of sadness in his eyes.
I knew the sadness well. For many it can best be described as the byproduct, or side effects of being a police officer in America. Police witness humanity at its’ worst.
They see fear, desperation and confusion on the faces of young children that have been victimized by parents. Moreover, elderly people that have been brutalized by strangers and family; and those that have been attacked repeatedly by their spouses not to mention others that have lost their lives due to fires or motor vehicle accidents. Having to notify family members that a loved one has died. The crushing hopelessness of those addicted to alcohol and drugs, combined with the terrible effect it has on their families.
Standing beside victims of violence as they lay dying, while trying to perform first aid, protect evidence and reassuring the dying that they were not alone as their life ended . . . all while crowds of onlookers stood by watching as if it were free entertainment.
Missing many family functions ranging from cookouts, holiday gatherings, or our children’s special events. The feeling of guilt that comes when you leave your family to fend for themselves during weather emergencies comes with the job.
Often police are the victims of violent attacks, where in a matter of moments a routine encounter turns into a life and death struggle. Gunfights, fistfights, wrestling matches all have to be endured and the officer must use any and all means of force to survive. The media and departmental scrutiny and pressure after some of these violent incidents take’s a toll on the officer that can only be understood by those that have been through it before.
All those police funerals . . .
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The worst side effect for many officers is the self-imposed isolation. The isolation can include heavy drinking to sedate themselves to sleep, because of the nightmares. Furthermore, the hyper-vigilance, building anger, and inevitable emotional withdrawal from family and friends take a toll. All too often this results in divorce and living apart from their children. Loneliness can become their constant companion, creating the overwhelming feeling that life no longer offers enjoyment.
When I spoke with the retired police officer I had to say “thank you” for your service. Those words still seem inadequate.
Deep down inside I had the overwhelming urge to say I’m sorry for all that you and your family endured. But, I didn’t say the words, it had been said too many times before. For you see, I understand that sadness all too well, that retired police officer was me.
To my law enforcement family, both active and retired I say, “Thank you.” I know the darkness I described doesn’t happen to all. But for those that are experiencing it, I want to assure you that life can and does get much better. The truth is the sadness I described has very little impact on me today and is far outweighed by the happy, peaceful life that I enjoy with family and friends.
John “Jay” Wiley, host of the Law Enforcement Today Radio Show and retired Baltimore Police Sergeant.
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