January was deadly for law enforcement with 16 officers killed and 10 of them feloniously shot to death. On Monday, January 24, The New York Times reported that while thousands of officers attended a funeral for two Miami-Dade officers slain whilst serving arrest warrants, they learned that another two Florida officers had been killed.
This chilling news reminded me of 2007 when 68 officers died by firearms in the line of duty, making it law enforcement’s deadliest year since 1989 (excluding 9/11). Many were wearing their body armor but were shot in the head. In 2010, 61 federal, state and local officers were killed by gunfire. While police work may not be the most dangerous job in the United States statistically, these are murders, and murders are, well, murders are different. My 2008 American Legion magazine article peeking into the secret world of cops seems just as prescient now, so I thought I’d share some excerpts:
Douglas recalled an Oklahoma state trooper confiding his difficulty with his first accident investigation six years earlier.
“He said, ‘I rolled up on this Interstate and a mother was running around the median strip with her headless child. I had to run after her, and I had to bring her down with the body of her child, and then I had to go get the head.’ He said, ‘You know something? I’ve never been able to get over that.’ Now, see, that’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And he’s still suffering from that PTSD.”
Cops also are expected—and expect themselves—to be invincible. Said Douglas, “They sometimes have that mindset of no one else is going to understand what they’re going through; you’ve got to be police to understand.” Officers see asking for help as weakness. A 1999 study put alcohol abuse among U.S. police officers at roughly twice the general population’s rate, the divorce rate is high, and, said Douglas, “Our domestic violence ratio is double the general population’s.” And incidents are downplayed. In the United States, a domestic violence conviction ends an officer’s career because they’re banned from carrying a gun.
“These young men and women did not come into this profession with this kind of attitude or disposition or anxiety,” said Douglas. “It is something that we do as we train them. We turn them into warriors.”
Over 94 percent of the 1,300 officer suicides the NPSF reported in a recent three-year period were attributed to relationship issues, but Douglas believes it all still comes back to the job. He said that about 20 percent of law enforcement officers likely suffer from acute PTSD while “the remaining 80 percent have CCTS, Cumulative Career Trauma Stress. That’s the everyday stresses—alarms going off, shoplifting, fighting, being jumped, whatever the case may be.”
“We’re seeing more and more rifles and long guns, more and more disrespect for the police,” acknowledged Sgt. Jeffrey Church (Ret.). “They know they’re not going to be punished, and jail seems to be a revolving door, so we are seeing more violent people and people that just aren’t afraid of the police anymore.”
Today's guest contributor, Sue Russell, is a journalist and the author of Lethal Intent, a true crime book about Aileen Wuornos. Follow Sue on Twitter and Facebook.