For LEOs, every contact with the public can be like playing a special Police version of Russian Roulette with every Citizen being a potential bullet or source of harm.

 

Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) are subjected daily to unnecessary risks of violence that affect their mental and physical health, and ability to serve the public. In America, Police are assaulted every 10.3 seconds and 81 Citizens are fatally shot each month by Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs). Of interest is that in 2018, 144 Police died in the line of duty; however, 159 killed themselves.

Photo from Flickr taken by Jamelle Bouie.

(Photo from Flickr taken by Jamelle Bouie.)

Notwithstanding common criminal behavior (i.e., theft, robbery, kidnapping, murder, etc.) modern policing involves protecting the public against drug trafficking, natural disasters and terrorists events. In the US, LEOs work in an environment where mental illness and substance abuse is pervasive and access to treatment is minimal but the ability to acquire a gun is available to almost everyone, even persons with serious mental problems. In their role as First Responders, LEOs often have to address dangerous situations created by persons who are mentally ill. Often, the disturbed person is armed and Police have to use force in order to protect the public and themselves.

However, it should be noted that LEOs have their own unique mental health issues. While it is true that some persons enter Law Enforcement with psychological problems (i.e., Veterans, victims of trauma, persons with a history of abuse), most LEOs develop mental and emotional distress as a result of their work experiences after joining the force. Factors that contribute to a LEO’s job distress do not only come from the mentally ill and criminals.

True brotherhood

Mississippi Highway Patrol. (Photo courtesy (Mary Ann Coggins Robertson)

An Air of Distrust

Recent shootings of unarmed Citizens by some Police have led to mistrust, disrespect and lack of appreciation for LEOs in many parts of the general population, this is especially true in minority communities. Too often these negative sentiments escalate into violent assaults and acts of revenge against Police Officers. This is most clearly exemplified in the execution (murder) of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in 2014 while they were sitting in their vehicle in Brooklyn New York.

What may not be understood by the Public is that the high levels of stress experienced by LEOs is not only reflected in the use of extreme and deadly force against Citizens, but that each year more LEOs die from suicide than are killed in the line of duty.

For LEOs, every contact with the public can be like playing a special Police version of Russian Roulette with every Citizen being a potential bullet or source of harm. In addition, it should be indicated that when a Police Officer makes contact with a Citizen or a suspect,
there are both psychological and physical effects that occur as a stress response. While some stress can help LEOs do their job and protect themselves against danger, the repeated cumulative effect of stress can cause high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, strokes, depression, substance abuse and suicide. Stress can also be a cause for poor judgement and inappropriate professional decisions and
behaviors.

shooting range

(Flicker)

LEO Stress

The stressors that LEOs experience are not restricted to their work. After work, Police often go home to personal problems we all experience (i.e., bills, wayward children, overdrawn bank accounts, marriage issues and divorce, etc.). These problems encountered at home exacerbate those experienced at work, leaving LEOs few options for relief.

The mantra that LEOs who are adversely and emotionally affected by the constant exposure to violence and death, are “weak, unfit for the job, need to man up, and less courageous than others etc.” is untrue, outdated, and ridiculous.

Fortunately, there are technology innovations (i.e. body camera, drones, remote scanners, the Internet, etc.) that, if used properly, can assist LEOs with doing their jobs with reduced risk and also offer LEOs better access to clinical support (Tele-mental health) without having to experience the stigma and inconvenience associated with traditional and less effective options. Technology, if properly employed, can not only make it safer for LEOs to do their jobs, but it can help reduce the need to use excessive and fatal force against Citizens.

Funeral for slain Dallas police officers in 2016. (Public domain)

Dangers of Law Enforcement

The dangers associated with the work of a LEO cannot be overstated. Presently, there is not enough being done to support and protect LEOs in doing their jobs and address the unique stressors they experience at work, at home, or in their life. It makes no sense to continue subjecting LEOs and Citizens to unnecessary stress and violence that can be avoided. We should not continue to rely on outdated Policing practices and tradition to reduce risks for violence between law enforcement and the Public.

 

“We have to do more to protect those who protect us and as such, help protect ourselves.”