Policing is hard……..
When you ponder that phrase, what comes to mind? Do you agree with it? Perhaps you just find yourself not knowing what to think? My guess is several different variables impact your mindset; most notably whether you are a law enforcement officer (LEO) yourself or if you have ever known one personally. I sometimes wonder if those who haven’t walked in the shoes of a LEO can truly appreciate how difficult policing actually is – especially on the soul. My twenty-four years of experience behind the badge have told me they can’t.
First things, first: studies support the fact that policing is hard. At a minimum, they prove that many LEO’s struggle to cope with what they are exposed to as a peace officer. For example: Research has indicated that while 8.2% of the general population suffers from an active alcohol or substance abuse addiction, up to 23% of public safety personnel, including law enforcement officers, are engaged in the same struggle. Furthermore, due to the constant exposure to violence, conflict, death, pain and suffering, coupled with the extremely stressful and draining nature of their work, police run a significant risk of experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Lastly, research by Dr. John Violanti in 2004 indicated that a combination of alcohol use and PTSD produces a tenfold increase in the risk of suicide. This small snapshot of research paints a grim picture on how policing can negatively impact those that take up its calling.
So, why does this happen? How is it that individuals brought into the profession, identified by pre-employment testing as mentally healthy, end up mired in addiction at a rate nearly three times the national average? The answer typically lies in the physical and psychological injuries officers suffer during the course of their everyday duties and the profession’s internal resistance to helping its own. Whether it be a singular traumatic event or the cumulative effect of years of dealing with the physically and emotionally demanding duty – the job takes its toll and for some it becomes too much to bear. The weight of this emotional baggage is compounded by a police culture that has traditionally directed its people to suppress all emotion and go about their business, going so far in some instances to label those seeking assistance as liars, quitters or just plain weak. Is it any wonder why we’ve ended up with such a damaged workforce? The LEO’s reading this who work in an environment that fails to support you through program or practice; you know full well what I mean. It can leave you feeling hopeless, alone and defeated.
There’s also more to the equation: America’s fascination with law enforcement is obvious and it contributes to the difficulties of those working in the profession. You can’t turn on a television, smart phone or any other media device without being inundated with stories about the police. Riots, murders, scandals, controversies – it seems every news broadcast highlights the conflicts that LEO’s face on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the stories typically tend to focus on the alleged failures of police and are laced with innuendos that imply wrongdoing, either in action or intent. For those of us in the profession, that is damaging. No matter how resilient you are, enduring endless scrutiny and second-guessing creates anxiety and provokes anger in LEO’s which drives a wedge between those behind the badge and the communities they serve.
That’s why this book is so important.
In the follow-up to her award-winning book “Hearts Beneath the Badge”, author Karen Solomon partnered with Jeffrey M. McGill to pen “The Price They Pay”, a raw look at the impact of policing on the people who don the uniform each day. Exposing the difficulties that officers face in a professional culture that traditionally demands silence about their feelings, “The Price They Pay” is a gritty composition that gets current and former LEOs to open up about the demons they face and how they cope, or have failed to cope, with their world that was shaped by the law enforcement profession. In an effort to humanize what many view as a superhuman profession, Solomon and McGill explore the emotional damage that is the end result of dealing with exposure to death, dismemberment, pain, suffering, conflict, fear, anger, scrutiny, vilification as well as societal and organizational pressures. Sharing stories of hope and failure gives all that have the courage to read this book a true picture of the direct and collateral damage LEO’s endure each day. Solomon and McGill look beyond the uniform and put a human face on the law enforcement profession, providing the average citizen a glimpse into the hardships faced by peace officers and their families on a daily basis.
If you are a LEO reading this book, thank you. Your service, while typically minimized and underappreciated by most does not go unnoticed by all. Many, both in and outside the profession, recognize your sacrifice and commitment to bettering our communities and you are to be commended for your service – especially in light of the cost. This book is a tribute to you. The stories you are about to read will resonate deeply as they force you to face your own history and the traumatic events that have forged you into the person you are today. You will also find yourself hope-filled by the courage of many of the people highlighted. It is my prayer that those who are reading this book will be inspired knowing they are not alone in their struggles.
If you’re a civilian reading this book, I thank you as well. As more members of the general public gain a deeper understanding of the psychological impact the law enforcement profession has on its people, the more compassion they will hold for these heroes. Plus, it is my hope that you become an advocate for those LEO’s in your communities because they deserve the support of those they protect and serve. I applaud you for your willingness to learn.
In 2008, I was elected to sit on the Executive Board for the FBI National Academy Associates and I have spent the last seven years on that board which represents over 17,000 law enforcement members worldwide. Now, as I serve as the 2015-2016 President, I look back at how policing has changed during my tenure. The nation’s mood has shifted and in this current climate of police being vilified in the media and scrutinized nationally by politicians and special interest groups, I’m not sure that LEO’s have ever faced a more difficult time in our nation’s history. This has to change or we’re going to lose even more officers to drugs, alcohol or suicide because the job itself, as so skillfully presented by Solomon and McGill, is difficult enough when you have the support of the people – it is devastating when you don’t. It is my hope “The Price They Pay” will give everyone a deeper appreciation of that.
To those whose stories are told on these pages, thank you for your courage to share. To Karen Solomon and Jeffrey M. McGill, thank you for your desire to make “The Price They Pay” a reality in order to expose the truth and lastly, to you the reader, a special thanks for your willingness to learn about the men and women that sacrifice their lives to keep others safe. You all are difference-makers in my book.
Capt. Barry M. Thomas
Story County Sheriff’s Office (IA)
President, FBI National Academy Associates 2015-2016
Proceeds of both books are donated to law enforcement charities....