Be Safe Out There
There’s not a chief or sheriff I know whom ever wants to experience the death of a department member … ever. That’s especially true if the loss is line of duty related. We all know a line of duty death (LODD) can happen anywhere, any time. Much of the content of American COP is devoted to articles designed to help every cop, every shift, every day come home safe and sound.
The holidays present some unique challenges to law enforcement officers in a number of ways, not the least of which has to do with survival. If you look at the statistics compiled over the years by the National Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation you might note January and December of each year are not without their losses of LEOs in the line of duty. I suspect the uniqueness of the holiday season may contribute to the LODDs we experience each year. Why do you suppose this is, and what might we do to minimize the tragedies occurring within our profession during this time of year?
One of the trends I noticed when working the streets was the holidays seem to bring out either the best or worst in people. I’ve witnessed some extraordinary kindness and charity from ordinary people, but I’ve also seen the worst in people as the holiday season approaches. I’ll never forget a murder-suicide I handled one year. A single father couldn’t afford presents for his two children, so he put a single round from a .45 into each of their heads, penned a suicide note explaining his actions, and then took his own life.
In these very difficult economic times more people will be hard pressed to celebrate the holidays in ways they might prefer. We often hope incidents like this won’t happen, but experience tells us they will. It’s the officer on the street who has to deal with such events. And it’s the officer on the street who must deal with the suicide by cop incidents, which are increasing in a time when many people cannot pay their bills, afford housing, and certainly cannot afford gifts for those who might expect them.
In some cases it’s a legitimate despondency, which may cause them to harm others — including the law enforcement personnel called to handle incidents involving such people. It behooves each of us wearing a badge and carrying a firearm to be particularly cautious during a time of year and in a year where economic circumstances alone may result in an increase in such cases. And those same economic circumstances may mean fewer backup officers, as far too many police agencies have had to reduce their numbers.
You’re Only Human
There’s another side to this subject, which merits discussion. This season also impacts officers, not because of the actions of others, but due to personal circumstances within their own lives. Many of us have families with children and we too may be somewhat upset pay cuts and reduced overtime opportunities have forced us to cut back on gift giving.
The holiday season generally brings with it more social obligations; trips to visit extended family, hosting or attending holiday parties, finding time to go Christmas shopping, attempting to get time off or arrange a shift swap so not all of the holiday season will be spent working. These events in officers’ lives can easily lead to frustration and distraction. And a distracted cop is a vulnerable cop. At a time when we’re likely to encounter more than our fair share of despondent and potentially dangerous subjects on the street, we can ill afford to not be at the top of our game — mentally and tactically.
What’s The Solution?
Given that we cannot control the mindset and motivations of others we may encounter on the street, it’s to our advantage to position ourselves in the best place possible. We can do this by having frank discussions with family and loved ones about the limitations of the current economy on our ability to be generous. I bet they’ll understand, and in doing so it relieves a lot of pressure and distraction, which would otherwise be on our shoulders.
Having a frank discussion can also soothe the pain of our absence from parties and family gatherings should time off or shift exchanges not be possible. And remember, relying on others for support isn’t a bad idea either. It may help to remember “the reason for the season.” So, while we can’t control what the bad guys do; we can minimize self-distraction through frank discussions with family and friends. I encourage you to do so and wish you the best this holiday season.
By Jerry Boyd
Questions, comments and suggestions for future columns can be sent to Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org