It is impossible to cover everything police officers have endured over the past year, but I hope to enlighten our staunchest critics behind their keyboards or, at the very least, resonate with the resilient men and women in blue still standing strong.
I wear a 24-hour monitoring device that tracks various health measures like stress, recovery, resting heart rate, sleep and heart rate variability. These are metrics for examining balance within the body’s autonomic nervous system.
COVID-19 tore through my agency and personally hit me hard. After examining six weeks of data from pre-, during and post-COVID, I discovered patrol was unhealthier, more stressful and more detrimental to my body than COVID-19. Now, this is obviously anecdotal and doesn’t show causation, but still, it’s something to think about. So, what causes this? Identity crisis, career regret and re-evaluation.
Police officers spent much of 2020 removing thin blue line stickers from their vehicles and taking supportive flags down from their houses. LEO families had to have actual discussions and formulate real plans regarding threats to their homes. Most officers change at work or wear a sweatshirt over their uniform, so no one knows they are police officers while driving their PVs. Speaking of disguises, officers often make up a profession when meeting people because it’s easier than trying to defend our livelihood. Even further, officers were refused service at retail chains all over the country and often choose food chains where they can watch employees make their food. On routine patrol or just driving to a call, officers experience death stares and obscenities shouted at them for no other reason than the line of work we are in.
On a more personal level, most of us lost lifelong friends and became at odds with family members over social media attacks and politics. Co-workers have repeatedly found flat tires or staged nails by their tires when returning to their PVs after shift. Seriously, what other profession in the world must endure this?
Most of us entered this career with an immense sense of pride, honor and accomplishment. I still remember how it felt having the badge pinned on my chest. Yet, in 2021, running toward gunfire, saving lives or simply wearing blue makes you the devil. These reigning sentiments have caused officers all over the country to question their career choice and, dare I say, feel a sense of embarrassment for a job only .002% of the population could even handle.
Prior to 2021, police officers were already on an island. Now, we might as well be on a different planet. The reality is, we are not the enemy. Everything we are sworn to uphold is passed down to us from lawmakers and politicians elected by the voting public. Tired of being stopped on your way to work? What you don’t know is your neighbor likely called a local politician to complain about speeders. The politician called the chief, who told the shift commander, who told the sergeant, who told the day shift to enforce speeders on Main Street. Our presence is largely due to someone telling us to be somewhere enforcing something or because we were requested.
What may also surprise the ever-critical public is police officers don’t agree with everything asked of us. The overwhelming majority would agree our criminal justice system needs sweeping reform. What we do not agree with is false narratives or reformations that serve no logical purpose other than to garner votes or make our job harder and more dangerous. If the public engaged in meaningful dialogue with officers more often, they would realize we are more alike than not.
Our inner circle is exceedingly small. Now, factor in the damaged relationships from social media attacks and politically fueled arguments with friends and family. For good measure, add COVID-19 into the mix. You are now a quarantined, blue devil forced to only surround yourself with other incessantly negative cops. Our only saving grace was positive peer support, but officers weren’t even allowed in the station or roll call. The second we started to vent to each other, we were quickly shuffled out of the station because “No congregating!” If you did happen to make it around anyone else, you were likely treated like a leper because you did not have the luxury of working from home during a pandemic. Understand, we have high-risk loved ones, too. Loved ones we rely on for support during difficult times. Unfortunately, in the past year, I watched friends literally back away from me during conversation and had immediate family members hand only me a mask when entering their house. Tough concept to accept when your job is once again held against you by the people you rely on for support. If you did happen to gather openly with family or friends when you needed them, the conversation largely consisted of politics, race, policing and everything else we were trying so hard to get away from when joining you.
With knee-jerk reform bills being passed all over the country, more and more veteran officers are opting for retirement. Couple this mass exodus with the reality no one wants to be a cop anymore, and you are left with vacancies to fill and no candidate pool. This results in lower hiring standards and potentially lower quality candidates. What’s more, the existing officers are getting crushed with forced overtime in order to fill minimum manning requirements. The end result is overworked, overstressed officers on the street, during a pandemic, in arguably the worst era to be in law enforcement.
I know it sounds like I am just bitching and moaning. No, it’s not all bad out there. I’d like to take this moment to sincerely thank everyone who continued to support us during these challenging times. Your simple gestures made a huge difference. We all agree police officers should be held to a higher standard, but all we ask is that you hold other professions to the same standard. Why not hold all humans to the same standard, and maybe you won’t see us as much? Believe it or not, we understand humans are inherently imperfect beings. That being said, police officers are human. Stop expecting perfection from an incredibly challenging and dynamic profession.
Two quotes with similar messages can aptly summarize this article. “Hurt people, hurt people,” and “The drowning can’t save the drowning.” If you want more from your police officers, stop piling all of society’s ills on them. Yes, it’s true. The people are the police, and the police are the people. So, let’s listen to each other and open a dialogue to elicit change where it actually counts because we are not your enemy.