As a result of prior articles, I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with readers who posted comments and questions. These exchanges are what led to the inspiration for this 4 part series on “The Second Victim”. The concept that police and other first responders become victims themselves as a result of carrying out their sworn duties.
Law enforcement officers must cope with the assaults on the heart, mind, and soul that these and other stressors cause, they carry it with them, bring it home and it becomes part of not only their life but the lives of their family, loved ones, and friends. When handled appropriately these same people become the support that officers need.
While this series will cover the stressors of dealing with horrific investigations and duties, it’s also expanded a bit to cover everyday stress coming from various aspects of police work, especially in our current hyper sensitive and emotionally charged culture.
Police officers, as well as many first responders, are indeed “second victims” of the events surrounding crimes and everyday stress and pressures.
As with all my articles, it is never my goal to be partisan, or even political for that matter. That’s not the role of the police, nor my intent. However it happens and I trust you the reader to understand the difference, to accept these thoughts and words as just that and not a partisan talking point for one side or the other.
A DrydenWire colleague of mine, Brian Cole recently wrote about being shut down for being too “raw” in talking about his faith and GOD at an event he was invited to speak to. Well in much the same way, stories based on “the” real human feelings, emotions and thoughts of a police officer certainly risks running straight through this same “touchy feely” new age social mine field.
So, in advance... to those who may be offended, I’m sorry you’re offended. To those who see their way through rhetoric or current political & social mine fields, I thank you. And to all who support law enforcement in general, on behalf of LEO’s everywhere and myself, thank you!
“A society that makes enemies of its police better learn to make friends of its criminals.”
This is a common and old saying within police families, both blood, and blue. It is heard more often during times of social and civil unrest. As you can imagine, it’s been heard a lot over the past 8 years and seriously ramped up in the past 10 months.
Let me be clear, I’m speaking of riots and calls for violence! Not a peaceful protest, not a free speech issue, not a lawful assembly. No, riots and mob action. I don’t care what their point is or was, or what they think is important or their issues or complaints.
When anyone, regardless of their opinion and viewpoints shows up en-mass in helmets and pads and armed with baseball bats, pepper spray and 2x4’s with nails in the ends to stab police horses. When they damage, burn and destroy property and injure others - it’s criminal! It's a breach of the peace and straight up mob mentality and mob action and should be responded to as such.
When they add their chants of “Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon”, “cops and Klan go hand in hand” and “what do we want? Dead Cops! When do we want them? Now!”. When property is damaged and destroyed and people were beaten, they have just forfeited any viewpoint or opinion they might have had to begin with! They have crossed the line of acceptable behavior and peaceful protest, as well as the law, and need to be arrested, period. If found guilty they need to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Anyone who supports them and their actions fall into this same bucket, and that includes elected and government officials as well.
I’ve written in the past of the “thin blue line” having to do with far fewer people willing to accept employment as or continue as police officers. Much of which is due to the complete social breakdown involving a select segment of the populous and certain government and\or elected officials. Other than a very high level of support from the current government administration as well as segments of the public who have always supported law enforcement, not much as changed in the past 8 years.
Just a couple of weeks ago on Friday, August 19th, we saw 6 officers shot, including 2 who were killed in an ambush style attack in Florida. This took the life of a patrol officer and his Sergeant, one white, one black. A few weeks prior to that a patrol officer was shot and killed by the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident. He killed the police officer who was coming to help him.
Cops nationwide are always on the defense, but now the feeling has almost become... if it breathes or talks, it wants to kill you. Recently a neighboring police officer made a traffic stop in my jurisdiction that was initiated in his city. I backed him up on this stop. While there, a resident, a very kind gentleman that I happen to know, had driven up behind the officers squad, stopped his car, got out and walked towards the officer in his squad, the officer was out of the car and ordering him back with full vigor as soon as the man started his approach. The officer had no idea who this guy was, his intent or motive, and he made it clear that any further advances towards the officer would not be met with smiles.
The officer acted in my opinion appropriately, but the optics would not have displayed that. It should be noted that after the stop the officer then approached the gentleman now back in his own car and spoke with him, it turned out he was only asking if he could drive around the vehicles to enter his driveway which the stopped vehicle was partially blocking. Their conversation ended with a handshake and no hard feelings on either end.
The point is that this officer truly felt threatened, even though there was no visual threat readily apparent to anyone watching, it was perceived. Unlike the officer who initiated the stop, I happened to know the gentleman that did this, and although I know him to be a good person even I felt a few fleeting moments of apprehension. You just never know when it’s “that” time, “that” incident that pushes someone over the line of rational thought, deed or action. Everything and everyone is a threat to you until you determine that they are not. Many years prior I was in the physical fight of my life with someone I had known and had interactions with many times
over the years, all positive, that is until this “one time”. Well, that “one time” nearly cost me dearly by potential injury or death. You just never know.
Ambush killings of a police officer is a very real thing, in 2016, the last year with a full 12 months of data, showed ambush killings were up 167% over 2015. There have been a total of 40 ambush type killings of police officers since 2014. There is a police officer, Federal, State, County or Local killed approximately every 61 hours in America.
When you consider not just killings, but also assaults and injuries to police officers, a 10 year average from 2007 to 2017 shows over 49,000 assaults on police officers per year. (Source - International Association Chiefs of Police IACP - Ambush Fact Sheet and the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund).
Why the increase? Is social and or main stream media to blame? What about “Social Justice” and “Social Justice Warriors”? How about the myriad of emotionally charged and often violently laced rhetoric “protest” groups such as Black Lives Matter, or Antifa? How about political and resistance laden press conferences and rhetoric from elected and other government leaders?
These are not questions to be answered here, nor do the answers really matter for police officers. What does matter is that it happens, it’s real, and police officers as well as their families, loved ones and friends face it or the potential for it daily?
Imagine spending your entire working day thinking or feeling that everything you encounter could and wants to harm you, to kill you perhaps. Sure we could all be hit by a bus crossing the street, but pay attention, look both ways, cross with the light and chances are better than not that you, like the chicken, will get to the other side of the road without incident.
That’s not the case in police work. Sometimes, no matter what you do, the precautions you take or how many times you look both ways, you are at risk of not only encountering something or someone who could kill you but also wants to kill you. Ambush shootings\killings as we have seen is on the increase over the past few years and there is almost no defense against it.
Pulling up to an accident, a vehicle flipped upside down with people trapped inside, and having the occupants shoot and kill you is not something that most normal people think about. Yet only about a month ago, this very thing happened in Southport Indiana, an occupant of the vehicle shot and killed the responding police Lieutenant, a 20-year police veteran who was only there to help them.
Many years ago a friend of mine with another agency was shot and killed when he approached the driver of a disabled vehicle broken down on the side of the road. The officer followed protocol and his training. He called in his location and status, he ran the plate which returned valid and clear of any wants, warrants or stolen status. He got out of his squad and walked to the front of the car where the “driver” was looking over the engine. The officer was immediately shot and killed by the driver who was later discovered to be an escaped convict and had just stolen the vehicle about 2 blocks away and 10 minutes prior. The officer had no way of knowing any of this, even the owner of the vehicle did not know his car had been stolen yet.
Police work has often been described as; hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of stark terror. That’s actually pretty accurate. The problem now is that between all the anti-
police social media posts, driving to work hearing news reports of officers killed, which is almost a daily or at least weekly event, or reports of allegedly “peaceful” protesters chanting “what do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!” we have little “down” time.
All this plays havoc upon the physical, emotional and mental health of not only officers but their families as well. Imagine just driving to work to start your day and listening to radio reports of people calling for your (as a police officer) death! Or how about saying goodbye to your spouse, loved ones, your children or granddaughters as you head to work, while they are hearing or just heard the same thing. Picture if you will kissing your granddaughter goodbye for the day, the same one who is proud of you being a police officer and the same one who just overheard the chants of people calling for your, her grandpa’s death. And remember, this is just getting ready to go to, or driving to work, you have not yet even encountered any real physical on-duty threat yet.... Or have you? Is the guy or gal in the car next to you in traffic listening to the same thing? Do they know you are a cop? Do they hate you, support you? Have they targeted you in advance?
Here in Metro-Chicago, there have been several well-documented cases of persons following off-duty officers, shooting at them or ramming them to cause accidents, or even shooting and killing them as they leave their homes and walk to their private vehicles.
This not only affects the officer but their family as well. I recently learned only a few days ago when I overheard my now 38-year-old son telling a friend about something that happened when he was 15 and in minor hot water. He said he told his friends when they asked him why he was not worried about being in trouble, said, “this is nothing, every day my dad goes to work, I never know if he will come back home, or if that will be the day he is killed”. How many kids go to school pondering this?
So what does all this do to the police officer? It causes the body to react naturally when in a stress-full situation, or under stress. The body releases massive amounts of adrenaline to prepare you for the infamous “flight or flight” mechanism. Well for police officers, "flight" is not normally an option. Can you imagine if a police officer responded to a man swinging wildly at people with a knife and the officer simply employed the “flight” portion of this and got back in their car and drove away?
After the encounter, as long as there is a period of “normalization”, or rest so to speak, the adrenaline will eventually dissipate and you go about your day. But what happens if these releases and surges of adrenaline are very close together, or you don’t have the down time for it to dissipate?
While not a doctor, what I do know of the effects on the body is that when too much adrenaline is produced and stored in the body, it causes health problems, premature aging, and the life- disrupting conditions of hyperactivity.
Adrenaline surges are meant to upset the normal body balance, but also to be used up in the bloodstream quickly. When a person is threatened, either by real or perceived threats, adrenaline causes dilation of the blood vessels and airways, a faster heart rate and higher blood pressure. Bursts of energy and more oxygen in the body allow for quick and efficient reactions. Along with adrenalin, norepinephrine and cortisol are also released to help the body function in
reactive mode. Think of this as a sprint, rather than an endurance run. You can only sprint for so long before it negatively affects you.
Adrenaline stored up in the bloodstream becomes more harmful than helpful. Insomnia, nervousness and lowered immunity toward illness are all connected to high levels of stress in the body. The chemicals produced by stress also speed up aging and hormonal imbalance and therefore have damaged collagen production and a reduced ability to repair cells. It also causes deep facial lines or the look of a “hard life.” Ever see a veteran cop with a face that looks like they are living the life of ease and relaxation on a beach?
Here we are just speaking of the current social and political climates, add to this the stressors and emotions of dealing with investigations that assault the mind and attack the emotions; Child Sexual or Physical abuses, death, and even scheduling which is normally a rotational round- robin through the 24 hour day, on a 20 day cycle. After all this, you have a ready made cocktail of adrenaline and other life shortening chemicals running rampant through your body.
Stress kills! We have all heard this, but these are the medical reasons behind it. I can attest to this personally. I have suffered most if not all of these symptoms throughout my career and even have had heart attacks to attest to it. The doctor\surgeon came right out and told me that although my diet was not great, nor most of my other life style choices either, that my heart attack was directly related to the non-stop stress I was experiencing at the time.
I became the “second victim” in a very real medical and physical way to my duties as a police officer. Stress kills and it’s still killing police officers and destroying their families every day, you just don’t see it on the 6 pm news.
Next week: Bringing criminals home with you.
About the Author: Al is a retired police detective from the metro Chicago area. He has been a Law Enforcement Officer at the City, County, State and Federal level in excess of 35 years. His career has taken him all over the nation and the world. Al has been involved in all aspects of criminal investigation as well as general police duties. He is once again on the street as an active LEO for a North Shore community, just North of Chicago in Illinois.