As someone who was immersed in the law enforcement culture, I saw some sufficiently horrible things that will likely stay with me until the day that I die. Some things that, despite being warned I might see, I could never truly prepare for. Still other things for which I was completely unprepared. But in hindsight (and with a copious amount of introspection), I feel like I’m able to look back on my time contemplatively and see where improvements could have been made, both in myself and in my organization. I made mistakes, of course, but I’m human, aren’t I? And speaking from experience having a front row seat with more people than I’d care to remember shuffling off their mortal coil, I can say that I won’t truly know what MY regrets are until I knock on the door myself. But I endeavor to try and “head them off at the pass” by continuing to examine both my history and my daily impact on the world.
But I digress. I’m not writing this as some cathartic exercise to cleanse my spirit (okay, maybe a little). I’m writing it because I think the community can do better. Listening to all the rumblings about defunding the police and all of the necessary reforms, mostly from people who have absolutely no idea what it’s like to wear the uniform and the sacrifices that the good men and women in blue make on a daily basis, I find myself motivated by the desire to stand up for my former colleagues in hopes that I can make their jobs easier while at the same time satisfy the undereducated masses.
I will be the first one to tell you that police officers are put into many different situations, some of which can turn volatile at the drop of a hat. Situations that start out innocuous and give absolutely no indication that they are about to morph into incredibly impactful and life altering circumstances that affect more than just the people experiencing them at the time. Police officers do their best to train for the worst possible scenarios in an effort to “be prepared for anything.” But that being said, there are still some situations for which they are unprepared. You see, law enforcement is not exactly on the cutting edge when it comes to mental health. They have a hard enough time navigating the stigma of not reaching out for help with their own struggles. But departments want these officers to step into unstable mental health situations and make assessments, utilizing only the law enforcement specific mentality with which they have been trained? Where is the logic in that?
Some of the “solutions” about which I’ve been hearing are that counselors and therapists should be the ones utilized in these situations but I can definitively say (with as much or more “authority” than you will get from any of these so-called “experts”) that that would lead to more deaths than it would avoid, most of which would be the counselors and therapists themselves. They have neither the training nor the mentality to deal with those highly explosive situations when they are at their apex. It is at this time, that the public (like it or not) would be glad to have that which they have uneducatedly lambasted in the past.
But knowing that with the identification of 10,000 problems there should be an attempt toward at least one solution, I realize as I write this, the many follies and objections that will inevitably come with it. First things first. If there is a list of priorities that get applied to each and every situation that law enforcement (or any other necessary entity) steps into, the safety of the public and the officers comes first. Priority number one every single time. It supersedes every other “goal” during the aforementioned situations. And unfortunately, because of the volatility I mentioned earlier, it can change at a moment’s notice (safety ALWAYS stays at the top of the list).
So, let’s imagine a scenario where someone is suicidal, threatening their life, and the life of anyone who comes close to them, with a gun. They live in an apartment, perhaps with a family (that’s present) but at minimum with other tenants close enough to be in harm’s way. Although a person with some manner of therapeutic skill would certainly be helpful in this situation, the primary concern is the safety of the individual and all those who could potentially be harmed by the weapon in their possession. Primary means that which needs to be taken care of FIRST before anything else can happen. And to bring another person into this dynamic is not only dangerous (you’re welcome public) but stupid.
So therein lies the quandary.
You see, police officers are qualified to deal with the primary concern mentioned above because they religiously and repetitiously train for just such an occasion. But they do so with only the primary concern in mind. They have neither the time, the inclination, nor the qualifications and training to deal with the mental health aspects of what is transpiring out there in the world. Keep in mind this is a culture that sees the worst the world has to offer and makes socially acceptable a “hero mentality” whereby they can help everyone else but themselves and society wants to sit on their couches and judge their behavior? It’s no surprise that drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, and suicide rates are exponentially higher in this community. I know this all too well.
So, what do we do? I think the body camera is a great idea. But instead of using it as a means with which to crucify an officer in the comfort of some safe place, post-incident, by people that have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT (the ONLY people qualified to make judgements about an officer’s behavior should be a jury of his/her PEERS), it should be used as a real-time feed for the therapeutic professional to provide relevant and competent feedback for active situations. The camera gets activated? So does the therapist. The priority of safety first will never change. But as a former officer who always wondered how it came to be that I was able to place an individual under a psychiatric hold, even though I didn’t have the qualifications to do so (I had an undergraduate degree in psychology so I was more qualified than most), it would behoove all entities involved to incorporate the professional that CAN (safely) make that decision.
Maybe if there had been a therapeutic voice in the ears of Derek Chauvin or one of the other surrounding officers, a senseless death could have been avoided.