SALT LAKE CITY — Many people think that just by the simple fact that we (police officers) do what we do, we could be classified as crazy. When people ask us what we do and we tell them, most offer the same response. They remark about how tough a job that would be and that its not something they would want to do.
I often reflect on how lucky I have been in law enforcement. I have never been in a situation that impacted me deeply or shocked me, at least consciously. However, as I say that and I think back to what I have seen, I wonder, why?
I have seen gruesome crime scenes, I've seen people die right in front of me. I have observed horrific accidents and violence on the most innocent of victims. Maybe it does affect me, but I really can't tell how.
I don't binge drink on the weekends and I don't lash out at my family after a particularly tough shift. I do play an occasional video game to clear my head and I also golf. Golf is not as calming as you may think when you play like I do.
Most men are taught to bury their feelings whether by a dad, brothers, school mates or friends. “Dudes don't cry" is the mantra. Then, when you become a police officer, it's instilled in you to be a rock, to let nothing affect you when everything else around you is crumbling. Its not taught in academy, but it is expected by your co-workers.
I think this may be what happened to me. I'm not completely without feeling. My eyes started to sweat when I saw the lead character in "Wreck it Ralph" sacrifice himself to save Vanellope. They do the same every time I see "Field of Dreams." I also get emotional when I see kids and infants get hurt.
But for some reason, when I put on my uniform, my emotions turn off. I turn into "mister tough guy" where nothing affects me. When I take off my uniform at the end of shift, it all comes back in a flood. I've handled it so far. I wonder if that's what Superman goes through. Although I think my superhero name would be "Adequate Man."
I began wondering about other officers around the state. How do they cope? How do they handle the stress of work and home? Whats in place to help them out? I did a little digging to find out. By a little digging, I mean I asked some people and looked on the Internet.
As far as I can see, and I'm sure people will correct me in the comments section, there is not much out there. Most employees with PEHP insurance are offered an EAP (employee assistance program). An EAP offers counseling and several other resources. It looks like it could be a really helpful resource. But how many officers actually use the service?
Cops are notorious for not trusting people. That may explain why I'm “Officer Anonymous.” I just don't see a lot of officers going to a stranger who is paid by the administration, (the one thing cops distrust most) and telling them all their secrets. Regardless of the assurances they are given, cops are afraid that what they say will get back to co-workers and administration.
The Salt Lake City Police Department offers a Peer Support Program. This program is staffed by an officer who is trusted within the department. It also employs several officer volunteers via an “on their own time” basis. The Peer Support Program offers an open door to any officer that needs to talk. It also conducts debriefs for officers who have responded to critical or traumatic incidents that have occurred in the city.
The program is very successful and receives a lot of positive feedback from attendees of the debriefs. I have also been informed that the state offers counselors to respond to traumatic incidents to help smaller agencies.
I have asked many officers if their agencies offer peer support, group counseling, interventions or anything else to identify officers who are having problems. All of those I spoke to answered "no" and most said they had never heard of EAP or counseling services.
I asked if their departments identified officers going through a rough time and intervened? I asked if they had anything set up so a co-worker could anonymously report problems another was having and the department would respond appropriately to it? Again, the answer was "no."
I asked officers what they thought of group counseling and they all shook their heads. There is no way they would admit to a fault or weakness in front of a group of officers. They knew for a certainty that their personal stories would be all over their department and they would be shunned.
Police Departments are a lot like High School. They run on rumors and popularity. Heaven forbid if you open up or show weakness. You will be made fun of and eventually have to sit alone at lunch, or work the spotlight in theater class.
You can ask most officers and they will tell you which co-workers are having a hard time and which ones are swirling the drain. One of the problems is that officers are not usually equipped to deal with a co-worker heading down the wrong path. Instead, they start going out to drink with them on the weekends — or weekdays — as a way to show support. They think they are helping when, in fact, they are helping cover up the problem and may be actually aggravating it.
Ultimately, something happens to said officer, whether it be a DUI, a fight with their spouse, a criminal action out of desperation or, worst of all, suicide. More than anything, I think officers hate to hear of a police officer committing suicide. It weakens the foundation of us all and makes us all realize that we are not invincible. It also makes us realize that we ignored the problem when we should have done more.
If you know of a police department that is doing more, or offering services that are an example for other departments, I would love to hear about it. I would also like to know if there are any peer support programs besides the fine example at SLCPD.
This article is for entertainment purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice. I do not represent any specific agency or government. Please send questions to email@example.com