Salty tears are drying on my cheeks as I write another post inspired by yet another tragedy.
For months now, I have been trying so hard to not react to the news of officer deaths across both Canada and the US. I decided after my last grieving post about police deaths, I had said my piece. I wanted to go back to writing about parenting. I was done with wading into the world of policing, about which I still know very little. It is really hard work trying to put my feelings about policing and police death into words.
In May, I watched as other blogs and posts on Facebook piled up, as that month proved to be one of the deadliest months EVER for police officers in the United States. I saw post after post by my fellow police spouses, and by officers themselves, as they mourned so many tragedies.
What struck me as I watched the news, was that each time an officer was killed, there was barely a “blip” on the national media outlets. Often there is little outside of local coverage. There was definitely no uprising of angry people, appalled at the news that an officer had been shot while he was sitting in his police car, or having a coffee break. Murdered.
Sure, policing is dangerous, and we police families accept and understand that there will be tragedy in this line of work. But what is so difficult to stomach, is the frequency of officer deaths on both sides of the border in the past few months, and the nature of these deaths. These officers are being murdered.
Today, Canadians mourn the loss of another officer shot on duty while issuing a warrant at a home in Edmonton, Alberta. His name is Daniel Woodall, he was only 35 years old, and has left a young family behind to grieve his loss.
My first thought was not again, my second was, at least he wasn’t shot while he was sitting in his patrol car eating a sandwich, or run-over in a parking lot of a shopping mall on purpose by a “cop-hater”. At least he was doing what he was called to do when he was killed. Even then, this is small solace for his wife, I am sure.
Even I am becoming desensitized to the violence. And what difference does it make HOW he was killed? Our officers who are killed on duty are being murdered. No matter how it happens, they are murdered. They are gone.
These deaths, this career, and the collateral emotional damage it brings to officers and their families is very real, and it is very serious.
But what I really want to bring to light today, is that, regardless of the dangers cops face on the street, they also face pressures and threats from the very departments and leadership that should be watching their backs. There are flaws in this system. Some we can see in the news, as bureaucratic issues become public fodder. EVEN STILL, it usually takes an officer suicide, a public melt-down, or yet another on-duty tragedy, before it gets any attention (and if we are lucky, a tiny revolt) from the general public. But much more often, it is the hidden, insidious side of professional policing.
I used to think that the system supporting my husband and his colleagues was stalwart and just. But it’s not. Not really. Somewhere, in all the bureaucracy, in the politics, the very values that policing is built on, fall away.
These values crumble the moment an officer needs them the most. The moment anything happens out of “regular” procedure, these values are tested and sadly, often fail. If you’ve seen it happen, you will know what I am alluding to. If you haven’t, and someone you love is in law enforcement, consider yourself lucky. I have seen it personally, and I have read countless stories of officers who have experienced this value breakdown. Officers who, for example, have made a mistake while on duty, or who have gone on a medical leave for PTSD, or some other mental or physical illness or injury…whatever the reason for the failure in regular procedure, the officer is most likely the one that will lose. He will lose his confidence, his credibility, and maybe even his job. He may be ostracized, bullied, pressured or even civilly sued. It will affect his relationships with his peers, and with his family. Law enforcement officers are pushed to their limits every day, and when they finally fail, or breakdown, who is there to catch them?
Suddenly, enemies on the street aren’t the biggest danger to these officers, but rather their own administration and leadership becomes the threat. Bureaucracy, power and ass-covering overrides values.
Honesty is replaced with mistrust
Integrity is replaced with favoritism and self-preservation by leaders
Professionalism is replaced with gossip and self-promotion by leaders and peers
Compassion replaced with judgement
Accountability with blame and scapegoating
Respect is replaced with disdain
Values change toward the “fallen” cop. And there is no recourse, no media coverage, no one sends loving messages or bakes casseroles for the spouses of officers who have “failed” in the eyes of the force, or who have been destroyed by internal politics. Our officers now have enemies on all sides:
The criminals (who now out-power them in so many ways it’s terrifying)
The public have disdain for them (“they” pay these officers’ salaries, after all)
Their administration has turned coat on them (because no one wants to go down with a sinking ship)
My heart breaks for these officers – the seen fallen and the unseen fallen. The guys who maybe only made one tiny procedural mistake and pay with their badge. The officers who finally break down under the weight of all that comes with that badge. The officers with PTSD. The ones who are just plain exhausted. Or scared. Or cornered – by whatever enemy they face.
Things need to change. How? I’m not sure.
I think I speak for families of law enforcement officers everywhere when I say to our police men and women –
We have your back when no one else does. Your worth is far greater than that badge you wear. When that badge gets too heavy, we will be here to say “It’s okay, take it off, rest for a while”. Because you are so much more than that badge.