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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

No word on Suzanne and Law Enforcement Woes

For those who have asked, Suzanne continues to be in a coma. She is off the ventilator and only being given the necessities (food and water) to sustain her life as prescribed by Church teachings. I ask you all for continued prayer for her entry into the next and most wonderful phase of her life.

Yesterday was spent in training provided by CPOA (California Peace Officers Association) on leadership. The speakers were wonderful. In particular, I enjoyed Dr Kevin Gilmartin who has written a book Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement that deals primarily with the problems faced by those men and women on the street.

Here is some interesting facts: we, as a nation, have done an exceptional job protecting our people on the street. Officer Safety is great - in 5 years the number of officers killed as a result of felonious assault while on duty has dropped 50%. The numbers are something like 117 five years ago to 52 last year. That is fabulous. The training the cadets get in the Academies across the nation have made being a Police or Sheriff Officer in the United States safer than being in law enforcement anywhere else in the WORLD.

Now the bad news: Suicides have shot up. The numbers are horrific. I may be off a step or two here but if I remember yesterday's class, it has gone from like 75 officers eating their guns in 1999 to 482 in the year 2005. Even allowing for population expansion and the expansion of the number of officers, the percentage jump is too high.

Why is this happening?

Dr Gilmartin believes that we have neglected to teach recruits how to recover from the state of hypervigiliance that is required for officer safety on the street. He contends that there is a specific neurological change that requires specific actions on the part of the person, or what happens is they 'unplug' at the end of the shift, go home, feel exhausted and a little depressed and start to associate feeling that way with being at home. They let go of outside activities - hobbies, friends, relatives, a spiritual life (he STRESSED the need for a spiritual life for law enforcement) and so become ONLY Cops. And when they need more money, what do they do? Get a side job like so many Firefighters can do (be an electrician or a carpenter?). Nope, they work OT on the job and so become even more identified with their profession.

Eventually, the depressive state and feelings lead to either bitter, angry, overinvested men and women who get pissed off when given an order to wear their hats whenever they make a traffic stop (true story - 3 cops in Vermont ended up losing their jobs, pensions, homes, everything because they got so angry over being required to wear their hats when making traffic stops they were caught urinating into the chief's locker by secret cameras. How would you like to go home and tell your wife you have to sell the house because you got fired, because at the age of 34 you didn't want to wear a hat so you made pee-pee on your boss' clothes? and got caught because you are so pissed off you couldn't figure out you WOULD get caught?) OR it leads to people so depressed because their third marriage has fallen apart they eat their gun?

Dr Gilmartin stressed specific actions we need to take in order to nip this problem in the bud. I was shocked to hear them - I learned them all in my 12 step program and have had them reinforced by the genius that is Catholicism.

1). I must acknowledge I am the problem.

2) I must have people in my life I trust and who will hold me accountable - tell me when I am off base and tell me when I am doing right.

3) I must have hobbies and interests outside the job.

4) I must be physically and mentally active for at least 20 minutes AFTER I get off work (I don't think driving home counts so I am going to start walking around the block before I get in my car to commute home).


The amazing part of all of this is, when it is laid out for one to examine it is simple to the point of being ridiculous. We all need to have at least one person in our lives who is not afraid to look us in the eye and say, "You are wrong. You handled that poorly and you are not holding true to the beliefs you hold if you take that action". Then they have to be willing to stand our wrath and our denial until we believe them. In my case, I have three. I have my sponsor, I have my spiritual director and I have my mother.

I have been taught through my 12 step program and my religion to always look at my own actions first....I am probably the problem, and God is always the solution.

I love to teach, to write and I love Forty-Niner Football. I love old movies and training dogs. I can get lost for hours in a beautiful painting at a museum. I have hobbies and interests that are almost TOO much....thank you, Jesus.

I need to do more physically and I think I will start with a daily committment to walk around a large city block where I work before I get into the car to drive home. As the weather gets better I will commit to walking Duffy when I get home before I go to bed.

If I am willing to try to do this one day at a time, maybe I can live a longer happier life. I do not want to be a sad statistic. And if this works for people in super-stressful jobs, why would it not work for all of us?

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