You Tell on Yourself
“You’re with peer support? I’m fine. I don’t need to talk.”
How many times have I heard that from an officer before? How many times has anyone in peer support heard it?
Some officers, no matter what, will refuse to chat with peer support officers because they feel their weaknesses will be exposed. News flash! It ain’t us exposing weakness. It’s already exposed by officers suffering in silence.
When I was a kid my mom had a tapestry hanging in the dining area of our home. Here’s what it had written on it:
You Tell on Yourself
“You tell on yourself
By the friends you seek,
By the manner in which you speak;
By the way you employ your leisure time,
By the use you make of every dollar or dime.
You tell what you are
By the things you wear,
By the spirit by which your burdens you bear;
By the kind of things at which you laugh,
By the records you play on your phonograph.
You can tell what you are
By the way you talk,
By the manner in which you bear defeat;
By so simple a thing as what you eat,
By the books you choose from a well-defined shelf.
In these ways and more, you tell on yourself.
So there is really not a particle of sense
In your efforts to keep up your false pretense” ~Anonymous
Suffering officers battling images from a critical incident or fighting addiction actually do tell on themselves. They don’t realize it but they are sending out signals for others to see. Think about it.
We all know of officers who are jumping out of a police catalog with how well they present themselves in dress and appearance. They would do the job for free! They are the first to get to work and usually the last to leave. These officers are “fast burners.” Then a major incident happens to them while on the job or in their personal lives. The incident or incidents shakes the mental and physical foundation, which were built on hard work and dedication.
Suddenly there’s a shift in behavior. It’s not always a dramatic change. The changes might be gradual. The changes are small. If supervisors, co-workers, friends and family don’t pay attention, the fast burner will burn out. This is usually when disciplinary problems start.
The signs are there. We’ve seen plenty of examples of changes in behavior; use of force incidents rise and productivity decreases. Officers start complaining about “them” and how the administration is out to get “us.” They believe all of the public is unappreciative. They take unnecessary risks. They might start drinking more. Maybe they start hanging out with other officers who encourage the bad behavior/attitude. Their humor becomes darker. Healthy eating has stopped and junk food is the new diet. See the patterns? They are telling on themselves.
Around this time is when peer support is called in. Sorry but it might be too late when that happens. That’s usually when an officer is so angry they see a peer support officer as an adversary. That’s usually when we hear those words. “I don’t want to talk.”
Let’s rewind. You don’t have to be a trained peer support officer to help a fellow brother or sister. We have learned how to read people due to the very nature of our job. Sometimes all it takes is a simple statement with a follow up question:
“I’ve noticed you are no longer _________ . Is everything ok?”
You may be surprised at what you hear in their response. You’ve become their peer support. That’s usually when it’s best to suggest they seek out the trained peer support officer to continue the conversation. Catch it early enough and the officer may have an epiphany and make the changes back to their old selves. A career or a life might be saved because you cared enough to ask.
That poem on that tapestry has stuck in my mind for decades. As a peer support officer the value in those words help me personally and professionally. I’m not perfect so it’s a great reminder. Thanks Mom!
In the future when you see a fellow officer going through a tough spot look for the signs. Help him or her out. They are telling on themselves.
Javier Bustos is a law enforcement officer in Central Texas. He is one half of “That Peer Support Couple” with his wife Cathy. Together they are strong peer support advocates speaking about surviving critical incidents and marriage. He can be reached at: [email protected]