What could possibly go wrong?

Last week, I wrote about the issue of law enforcement and mental health, specifically wondering why our profession isn’t the loudest voice in calling for commonsense gun safety legislation. The issue is part of a much larger mix of factors that combine to take a huge emotional toll on officers today.

From last week: “In the past few years everything has gotten worse. Everyone’s angry. Politics, social media, non-stop noise and hatred, putting us all on edge. We know as cops what that means. The cop on the street is the one on the front line of this crap when it boils over. Mental illness, domestic violence, murders, fights, opioids, homelessness, poverty, desperation. Oh, yeah, and assume everyone is armed in our gun culture existence. And our nature is to stuff it down. Unwind with a drink, close our social circles, tell ourselves it’s us versus them like never before. What could possibly go wrong?”  

And then yesterday, Police One reports yet another NYPD officer commits suicide. California cops got into a gun battle with another shooter armed with an assault rifle. One killed, two wounded. Every single day we are surrounded by carnage.

First-Responders-and-PTSD

My friends, our mental health has always been under stress. Police work is inherently dangerous, thankless, stressful stuff. In our modern world, the darker side of our profession is now on full display. The bad apples are now exposed as never before. Social media and cell phones are blaring the ugliness daily. Guns are more prevalent, and available than ever, to the point that every training you get instills the fear “everyone is armed” and “everyone hates cops”, therefore everyone wants to kill you.

Talk about stress.

On top of that, mass shootings are on the rise. The .223 or AR-15 or AK-47 type rifles are all the rage now, flying off the shelves at a record pace, thanks to slick ads that equate ownership with “manhood” and “strength.” Our gun culture has reached a fever pitch. Our anger and partisanship has reached a fever pitch. Our race wars haven’t been this heated since the height of the civil rights riots. Police are underpaid, undertrained, under equipped, and still expected to perform at unrealistic levels of superhero (or antihero) status, just like on primetime TV.

Every problem polite society won’t deal with lands at the feet of the street cop. Rarely do we solve the problems to anyone’s satisfaction. What human can live up to that kind of expectation in the face of so many threats?

Then there is the very real presence of bad actors within police ranks. Racists, sexists, homophobes, white nationalists, and just plain old incompetent and lazy. Every good cop wonders daily why these people don’t get fired, and if they do, why don’t they get de-certified? Why do they too often get to move on to another agency to fuck everything up for those of us just trying to do a good job and stay alive?

The public has no clue. We don’t want to tell them because we don’t want to make things worse. But wouldn’t publicly shaming and purging the bad apples make policing look better in the eyes of the public? Wouldn’t law enforcement regain some credibility if we policed ourselves more effectively? What if we actually dealt with the many damaging online law enforcement sites that allow and encourage angry, hate-filled language spewed under the cover of free speech? The dangers we face don’t excuse misconduct or racist rants. Good cops know these sites only feed the malignancy.

Our conduct is scrutinized because the badge and public trust make us different. The shame when bad cops are exposed only reflects upon the rest of us to the extent that we allow or have allowed those stains to remain in our ranks. Officer morale suffers in-house. Officer safety takes a hit when those bad actors shame our profession. Angry people want to hurt cops. That is the real consequence.

We need leadership to face our own shortcomings head on, not cowardly excuses or weak-sauce reasons not to take action. Leaders who demand the highest levels of professional behavior. Leaders who insist on sound policies and tactics. Leaders who stand by their officers when they do the job properly, and terminate those who stain the badge. Leaders who ensure their officers get the training, equipment, and support they need, rather than stoke the flames of division with the ‘war on cops’ rhetoric.

It’s time we take a hard look at ourselves and decide who we want to be. Professional, moral, respected public servants that most of cops are, or the immoral, dangerous, unethical, hacks the bad apples make police seem? Will we continue to enable the worst among us out of some misguided loyalty? Because if we keep telling ourselves empathy and emotion make us weak, we’re superhuman crime-fighters, we’re immune from human feeling, refusing to name problems, provide cover for misconduct, unwilling to admit fault, and unable to reconcile these conflicts, we will not survive. Personally or professionally.

And that, my friends, is what can go wrong.

Be safe.

When is Enough Enough?

Chief Couper (Ret) has similar thoughts on law enforcement and gun safety laws. It is our business. I’d say it’s a moral imperative.

Improving Police

Isn’t enough, enough? The business of deaths by firearms is the business of police leadership.

Across our nation there is increasing support for more controls on firearms possession and use.

I expect police leaders to come together and propose that their elected leaders do more to legislate reasonable controls. For example, the following:

1 Universal background checks on all sales and transfers of firearms (including so-called “gun shows.)

2. Prohibit the sale and possession of military-style assault rifles.

3. Prohibit the sale and possession of high-capacity magazines.

4. Institute a national/state buy-back program of prohibited firearms and magazines.

5. Permit police to impound firearms possessed by persons who are a danger to themselves or others.

6. Increase accessibility for all citizens to mental health services.

7. Enforce existing state and federal firearms laws and fully staff the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Taxation and Firearms.

8. Sanction hate speech whenever…

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Cops must say enough is enough

Like anyone with a soul, I have been deeply affected by the most recent avalanche of mass murders committed across our nation in the past couple of weeks. We see the stories of the carnage, videos of sobbing, stunned, bloodied survivors and wonder when this national nightmare will end. 

My friends, I have a question that has been burning in my soul for years: Why isn’t law enforcement screaming the loudest for sensible gun safety policy? 

Many of us have lost friends in the line of duty. My particular personal count is eight friends, seven of them killed by gunfire. Here’s what has angered me since: Every single one of those seven heroes were murdered by individuals who had no business having a firearm. So when I hear the tired cliche of what can’t be done, it frankly pisses me off, because I would try anything if it would save another cop’s life. What about you? What wouldn’t you do to save your friends or family? 

In one of the most personal of these cases, my friend, Mike was shot and killed by a guy discharged from the military for psychological problems. He left Ft. Bragg, NC, stopped at a nearby gun shop and purchased numerous weapons—all perfectly legal. Sometime later, after wearing out his welcome with presumably all family and friends, he ends up on the streets of our city, homeless. One fateful night, Mike stops him pushing a shopping cart in an area where we had complaints of burglaries. Just a field intel stop. The kind we’ve all done thousands of times. This one ended with my friend’s murder. Shot dead by a guy we could have prevented from getting his guns. 

This story is unfortunately not uncommon. Statistics tell us that fully 1/2 of cops killed are at the hands of individuals suffering from  mental illness. (Lack of proper mental health care and street cops forced into these situations is a topic for another day) We know that many felons also fall into this category, so the overlap is real. Also, half of those cases involve domestic violence. All three of these categories have been areas of much national debate regarding gun laws. I have to ask, if there were a possibility of preventing the shooter from obtaining a firearm in HALF of the law enforcement deaths every year, why wouldn’t we do it? 

Another horrible statistic is police suicide. Friends, we are now losing more of our brothers and sisters in blue to their own hand than on duty. Yet another of my friends included. 

This topic is much broader in scope and encompasses so many parts of our cop experience and psyche. It starts with the first lessons we learn: Toughen up. Don’t be soft. Don’t show emotion. Gallows humor. Dehumanizing victims. All are coping mechanisms to avoid dealing with the reality of the pain. The crazy shit we see and deal with every day. 

In the past few years everything has gotten worse. Everyone’s angry. Politics, social media, non-stop noise and hatred, putting us all on edge. We know as cops what that means. The cop on the street is the one on the front line of this crap when it boils over. Mental illness, domestic violence, murders, fights, opioids, homelessness, poverty, desperation. Oh, yeah, and assume everyone is armed in our gun culture existence. And our nature is to stuff it down. Unwind with a drink, close our social circles, tell ourselves it’s us versus them like never before. What could possibly go wrong? 

Why am I talking about these issues today? 

Because we all watched the news and the horror of these mass shootings cascade daily across our news feed. We all mourned the victims and cursed the insanity. I thought about the hundreds of cops in all those cities, running toward that gunfire. Running towards an angry individual armed with a weapon of war. 

I first thanked God there were no police casualties (this time), but I know there has been incomprehensible emotional trauma done to those cops. You can’t face down that kind of threat without consequence. You can’t tread through rivers of blood and corpses without being scarred for life. I pray our brothers and sisters of the badge are getting the emotional support they need, whether they realize they need it or not. 

In the roughly five years since I retired, I’ve thought about these kinds of issues more than I ever did on the job. Probably because you need the perspective of time and distance to really unpack it all. What I see from this distance is a big complicated puzzle with lots of moving parts. I’m glad we’re hearing more awareness regarding mental health in policing. I’m thankful police have more training and equipment. 

Here’s my question: Why isn’t every single law enforcement leadership organization, union, and department shouting from the rooftop that we need responsible gun safety laws? Why aren’t we demanding universal background checks? Why aren’t we demanding an end to high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and military-style rifles in civilian hands? Why aren’t we demanding red flag laws nationally? Why aren’t we demanding action?

Law enforcement could influence this issue greatly. I know many of you are uncomfortable thinking about our leaders weighing in on politics. But why do we consider saving lives a political issue? Public and officer safety is absolutely our business. Why is our leadership ignoring these threats to our safety? 

Cops are the ones running into the gunfire. Cops are being murdered. Civilians are being slaughtered. Cops are suffering PTSD effects of these rampages. Cops should be shouting the loudest: 

Enough is enough.