I was recently speaking to seniors at my local high school. The class was made up of young adults aspiring to be police officers, EMS, and Firefighters. I was going to speak of substance abuse and general stories related to police officers. I started off speaking to them about my accomplishments and divisions I used to be assigned to. I saw freshness, great zeal and excitement. I decided I would switch gears quickly.
I took the opportunity to speak to them authoritatively. I further described the scrutiny we are always under. Casualty dressed, hair combed, glasses and my service dog Loki appeared very well put together. I used all police terminology to the likes of “apparently” ,”the juvenile “,”the suspect” spoken as a statesman.
I decided to switch my role.
While I spoke, I began to unbutton my dress shirt. I removed it and stood in a plain white t shirt. Most of the students hadn’t realized what it was I was doing. On my arms and hand are a multitude of various tattoos. I asked the students if they have a different opinion of me. I inquired about feeling different of me and judging a book by its cover so to speak. I decided to switch roles as I continued to speak. The juveniles were extremely captivated.
I advised that not everyone is cut out for police work. I identified one might be better suited behind a desk or a different role in police work. I identified that most judge individuals early on in the early portions of contact. That contact is often utilized by a different vernacular for seperate people. Most affluent areas require a very formal approach, while lower income families require less formal. An ability to identify what approach to take isnt an easy task. There are some officers who still dont understand after many years of service. Field training officers instruct a very methodical position of reports, proper departmental documentation and formalities. Officers are best suited to not be “fake” or come off as something they are not. I identified the “force continuum “ and how imperative officer presence should be. The officer not only represents his or her department, but realistically themselves.
There are 2 ways to muddle through life. One is the path of least resistance and the other is to contest every issue. I chose least residence. I believe my contact with people should be appropriate to the same level of excitement as presented. The interaction seem to bode well for my expectations. After 27 years of service, I explained to the younger adults of the importance to work smarter – not harder. These observations are not taught in an academy nor by a field training officer. I confess however, not all approaches work at all times. It is up to the officer to ascertain subject matter with reality. I still learn on a daily basis and I am a retired police officer. I utilized techniques from various senior officers and applied what fit for me. The students engaged with the open forum. They recognized that there is no credible science in any one approach.
If I spoke with a command staff as a street thug I would more than likely be treated with a lack of respect. It is paramount that an officer conduct themselves professionally at all times. The public and most civilians remember most of what they hear and little to none of what they saw. I may be all over the place with this subject matter. I accomplished that by allowing the reader whether a (veteran, rookie or civilian) try to follow along. That skill set is often suited on a daily basis “on the job” . The ability to follow a conversation and identify the relavance of situational awareness can not be taught, but rather learned “on the job “ in real life interactions.
I concluded my speech with the students with a very important message. I suffer from PTSD and bipolar II. I also suffer from an addiction illnesses. I walked around undiagnosed for who knows how long. I began to hide and drink all hours of the day. Watch the same TV station, utilize text instead of voice to remove any slurring or points being made. It is imperative to the law enforcement community along with new personnel to understand the effect the job has on one’s body and mind. I reached out when it was too late. I exposed my downward spiral way too late.
Had a coworker, support personnel or command staff knew or understood my condition, things more than likely would have reached a better result. I do not fault those who witnessed my interactions. There is a great deal of covert operations to hide my conditions. I was seasoned with the art of deception. I now realize it was self deception that lead to my professional demise. The department and individual affected by these conditions can work together to fight these illnesses. The department limits liabilities and offers an incentive to the officer in need. The officer then can be placed back to work with a tool belt for there mental stability. We all are in a brother and sisterhood. Remember one can suffer alone with any overt signs of problems.
Speaking to the students was exhilarating. I began to reflect how selfish I was. Sure I told them war stories and silly things that had occurred over my career. However, I felt I may have come up short on the clientele. The teacher who called me to speak contacted me via. text. She (a former police officer) wanted to let me know of the responses from the students. The students were proud of how far I came and the battle I faced alone. They appreciated my openness about the job and mental illness. They couldn’t image how I was able to “pull it off”. I may have accomplished what so many adults are unable to communicate. I spoke in a “raw”/”real” way – from the heart. I connected with the younger students by humanizing the role of a police officer. I still believe I was selfish because I benefited much more mentally and the exposure of such a monumental issue.
Thank you for coming in on such short notice. Kids enjoyed it. They were talking to me about it this morning. You are a great speaker. I want you to come in again and I promise I’ll give you more time to prepare. One of the students said that they were shocked when you said you had a drinking problem. Another said you seemed “normal”. Another said they loved how you used humor during your presentation.