Burdened Badges: The Things They See

Burdened Badges: The Things They See

By Stephen Owsinski

The police profession combats the dregs of society to ensure law-abiding citizens revel in their unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In so doing, police officers see many things that aggregately amount to conflicted psyches, born of bittersweet episodes continually tolling cops’ consciences.

As any law enforcement officer can attest, the year’s end typically spikes in realms of people experiencing a bevy of negative emotions snowballing toward desperate measures, some concentrated on ending it all. Police respond and compassionately lend ears and extend hands to pull from the brink as many as possible.

Thieving becomes more abundant around Christmastime, with shoplifting and robbery spiking during the day and burglary generally wiping out families at night. The stats of these are, sadly, abundantly Grinchy. In one such case of kleptomania leading to a family’s heartbreak, Riverside, California cops responded to initiate a residential burglary report.

Feeling the utter sadness of a mom and her children, left with nothing right before Christmas, they filed the police report (which detectives will expand upon and work diligently to secure arrests) and quietly soul-searched among themselves. The frustration of seeing a family left hopeless due to a felonious dirty deed was remedied by a squad of cops who pitched in and made things right again, assuring some semblance of Christmas gift-giving was made possible by monetary means from personal police dole.

Unbeknownst to the victimized mom and her children, Riverside police officers returned to the crime scene —a burglarized apartment— and filled hearts by giving selflessly.

From a Riverside Police Department spokesperson, here is the synopsis of a sad situation corrected by cops:

“Late Christmas Eve, a single mom and her two sons returned home to discover their apartment had been burglarized and their presents under the tree were stolen. Watch A patrol officers responded to investigate and take a report, but also went above and beyond for this family and came up with a plan to help.

“They retrieved extra toys collected at the station, and other officers and dispatchers donated money so this family’s Christmas morning wouldn’t be ruined. Just before 3:30 a.m., the officers returned to the apartment with gifts and money for this mom and her sons. The Riverside Fire Department got wind of what happened and brought over even more gifts a few hours later.”

From Bad to Good to Morose

Two days after Christmas, cops in North Miami Beach, Florida worked a horrific crime scene where a 3-year-old child was fatally stabbed by her mother. Sifting through several reports from news outlets yielded scant information…until I located an article with an expanded view of details, and it is gruesome. North Miami Beach cops dealt with it all, arresting the 24-year-old mother. If any of those police officers were off duty on Christmas, their minds were still working that gory bloodbath…and will be for quite some time.

It’s not always the accumulative effects of seeing grotesque victimization due to crimes. Sometimes cops contend with indelibly bizarre circumstances stemming from accidents…

A week before Christmas 2022, Tampa police officers arrived on the scene of a grandmother and her in-stroller great-grandchild run over by a motorist who failed to observe them walking behind his auto.

Per a Tampa Police bulletin, “Had it not been for Cpl. Baker’s quick actions and calmness under pressure, a grandmother and child may not have made it out of this accident alive!

“An 80-year-old woman and her 3-year-old great-granddaughter were pinned beneath a car” after a “driver struck the victims as he was backing out of a parking spot. He said he did not see the woman pushing the child in a stroller as they returned from the grocery store and accidentally backed his vehicle over both victims. After feeling a bump, the driver said he assumed it was a large storm drain and attempted to pull forward. When the vehicle did not move, he became aware that he had struck someone.” (The following brief footage from the Tampa police bodycam is graphic and heartrending):

Whether Cpl. Baker has a child or not, we don’t know. I bet he will always remember cutting a little girl from a mangled stroller, her pink jeans scuffed from being pulled from under a 2000-lb. car, though.

On Christmas day, deputies with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office responded to reports of a house fire. The sole occupant, an 80-year-old woman —known by cops, fire marshals, and code enforcement officers for hoarding— is believed to have been using a space heater. After firefighters extinguished the inferno, deputies discovered the burned body of the senior citizen.

These few stories and their stark realities are a smidgeon compared to a much larger volume of tragedies confronted by LEOs across America.

As one can imagine, the myriad moments of chronically devastating victimization manifesting in law enforcement responses consequently translate to physical and mental health challenges for our country’s cops.

Albeit still a slow creep toward acknowledging mitigating occupational woes and doing more about it, law enforcers in America still receive far less countenance in realms of relief from burdens caked upon their psyches like barnacles.

(Graphic courtesy of Salute the Blue.)

From our friends at Salute the Blue, the following inscription went along with the graphic above:

“This is my family: It takes a special kind of person, to fearlessly run toward danger while everyone else is running away. To stand tall while bullets are flying by, to protect those who are ducking and looking for cover.”

Credibly, some police agencies are grasping the ball and running it downfield, advancing toward mental health conditioning and psychological balance, helping mitigate the constant barrage of challenges foisted by daily duties inherent in crimefighting and lifesaving.

The New York State Sheriff’s Association recently posted the following initiative, propping efforts to alleviate the stigma of staying silent due to being perceived as weak:

“Earlier this year, we launched a health and wellness program, powered by FirstNet Built with AT&T, for all New York Sheriff’s Office personnel to support the mental health of law enforcement and other first responders. First responders experience higher-than-average rates of stress, PTSD, and depression. This program lets them know that it’s OK to not be OK and seek help without judgment.

“Working with our partners from the New York Law Enforcement Assistance Program (NYLEAP), the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (NYS-DCJS), and the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF), we are making mental health resources, training, and seminars available to first responders throughout the state.”   

Nor’Easter Beast

This NY State-based mental health and wellness program for cops will likely see an uptick in consumers. Various law enforcement agencies (including some from out-of-state) conjoined in the search-and-rescue operations in New York, after a “bomb cyclone” blasted through the northeast, with Buffalo, NY in its reticle.

All reports paint it as utterly grim. Cops plow through and contend Mother Nature’s fury.

Police personnel working the natural disaster have been coming upon dead bodies in snowbanks, finding others frozen to death in their respective ice-encased cars and homes. Significant drops in temperatures and heavy snow impede rescue efforts by first responders, yet they pushed on. This type of discovery adds to the gravity of cops trying to save lives while not becoming a casualty as well. The weight of the storm increases the weight on the minds of public safety operators.

Anti-cop Climate

Overall, even blurred vision can see the ill-placed denigration and vilification of our police professionals, especially lately. With that, the elephant in the room —police suicides—have soared in number.

In recent weeks ushering in the Christmas season, several Chicago cops took their lives. Our topic today would be negligent for not touching upon the subject of self-destruction rooted in the many travesties experienced by LEOs.

Miasma Mash

When it comes to the vast emotional spectrum among our species, cops endure the gamut and continue to serve. Given the many drawbacks and curveballs and antithetical politics and demonization and demoralization and defunding and betrayal by prosecutors… police mindsets must adopt occupational rituals to manage come-from-behind feats. Survive Policing published a template called “10 Rules to Survive Policing in 2023.”

Perhaps the deepest scar among law enforcement officers is way too many police funerals, indicative of extreme hate aggregating wrongs against justice. The Officer Down Memorial Page is a veritable litany of obituaries of officers, deputies, constables, and troopers who served and succumbed to duty-related finales.   

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Police Department.)

Baltimore Police Officer Keona Holley was murdered on duty, shot by a crazed gunman who saw her as nothing more than a target. “One year ago [December 23, 2021], Officer Holley was killed in the line of duty, ambushed while sitting in her patrol car. We mourned a year ago as an agency and we mourn still.”

No one thing factors into increasing perils for our police professionals; a bevy of dimensions need redress.

One certainty, though, is the taut bonds comprising the Thin Blue Line, fighting to hold it all together while the daily doses of unimaginable constructs burden badges.