The most traumatic experience humans have is another person intentionally trying to hurt them. That is the closest thing to evil people experience and one does not survive it unscathed.
Cops routinely have contact with evil and are usually the first tending to its victims. In order to cope with the viciousness with which people treat one another cops typically develop a sense of humor civilians do not understand and start to see those they serve and protect as “the enemy.” This is self-destructive. Mistaking pleasure for peace, some crawl into bottles, overeat, engage in sexual promiscuity, abuse their power and do not understand why they feel miserable. The best cops struggle with the “Us vs Them” perception constantly, perhaps more so today because of the War On Cops outlined in Heather Mac Donald’s book.
Many cops feel as though the establishment leaders, the media, and their agency leaders have turned against them. If you don’t believe this, ask a few. There are some venues where cops feel supported by leadership, but Chicago does not appear to be one of them. After the DOJ report more cops were added and some changes made, but again, how does the rank and file perceive the changes, and new hires. That would be an enlightening study.
Dr. Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist who specializes in treating the psychic wounds of war says in his book, Achilles in Vietnam that the three main causes of PTSD are exposure to high stress, feeling of betrayal by leaders and dehumanizing the “enemy.”
Madeline Buckley’s Chicago Tribune piece about Chicago cops seeking mental health help after the cluster of suicides in the last eight months is timely and revealing. It is about time someone is noticing the profundity of personal issues faced in law enforcement. She cites psychology professor Arthur Lurigio who wonders if the department’s efforts are enough because the EAP service is overtaxed and understaffed and cannot devote the time and resources necessary to help struggling officers.
It is strange that most of the last dozen or so CPD suicides were committed by officers with less than seven years on the job. In the past suicides were more characteristic of officers with fifteen plus years’ service. Officer and supervisor opinions vary as to the reason for this seeming shift. Some believe snowflakes, unprepared to face evil, are melting with the heat of the job; some say lower standards and poor training; others place it at the feet of leadership and politics. Further, the high rate of student loan debt, and until recently, the stagnant economy pushed people into law enforcement that would never have considered it before. They need the money and job security it offers. Still, this is speculation and nobody is asking the rank and file what they believe.
So how does this get better? There is little cops can do about the exposure to high stress. Neither can they do much about leadership, but dehumanizing the enemy is the one thing they can control, though not easily. The “Us vs Them” perception is dehumanization and hurts cops more than citizens. Cops must realize that they alone control their response to the stressors they uniquely bear and must select and live by a set of ethical standards they impose on themselves, and check their behavior daily against their standards. Cops that do this due to their religious beliefs seem to handle evil much better, though that method is rare in the anti-religious climate in today’s culture.
In order for cops to deal with society’s ills they must recognize that their contact with the evil of interpersonal violence exacerbates their problems and they must get their house in order to minimalize the effects. They must act as they ought, not as they want; that will make this bearable.
Thomas Cline, MBA, MAP, 50-years in law enforcement is past president of the International Association of Ethics Trainers, LETT board member, a writer/trainer at the Chicago PD, and a consultant. He’s authored Cop Tales! (Never Spit in a Man’s Face…Unless His Mustache is on Fire) and Psych Firefight – L E Job Satisfaction in a hostile environment. For information on training and workshops Email: [email protected]