By Sarah Cortez
Heck, no. I’m not depressed. Even though I’ve read the statistics that state police officers are often depressed due to sleep deprivation, lack of respect by the public, stress, and physical exhaustion from the grueling demands of high call-volume shift work, staggering caseloads, and low-budget equipment. Yes, the statistics can be sobering. But you know what? I refuse to be a statistic.
Just like most of you, I gave up a lot to be a cop. I gave up other career choices and a better-paying job in a corner office in a glass high-rise downtown. For me, it was the right decision and one I’ve never regretted. I’ve seen so many others who also gave up careers of astounding success in other fields before going into policing. For instance, I know a patrol lieutenant who has a Ph.D. in Physics; I know another patrol officer who was a colonel in the Air Force. And how about my friend who graduated from a prestigious university on scholarship with job offers around the globe? She’s now four years into patrol and loves the work.
Let me be clear that I understand the seriousness of clinical depression. But let me also be very clear that sometimes a person can feel distressed and down, particularly about a job, without being clinically depressed. It is for this second situation that I am suggesting strategies that are particularly relevant to police officers and supervisors.
One of the ordinary and personal ways I’ve chosen to combat my distress over the media’s unfair and inaccurate distortions of police action is through education for civilians. You see, one of the reasons, I believe, for the strength in recent waves of anti-police dynamics is that Americans no longer understand who we are as cops. Additionally, they don’t understand what we do or why we do it. They need to be educated, and we are the best people equipped to do so.
What I’ve found in talking about OISs is that even people who classify themselves as “pro-police” have genuine questions. These questions usually can be answered by mentioning the research already done on use of force topics, such as reaction times, physiology of wounds, and the legal standards established by the judicial system for use of lethal force by police officers. References to some of the cases most trainees study in the police academy, such as the FBI Miami Shootout in 1986, can illustrate certain principles to civilians that police take for granted. Important principles like shooting for center mass to cause massive bleeding to stop the suspect as soon as possible, rather than shooting an arm or a leg—like they do in the movies. I make sure to mention documentation supporting the fact that the longer a suspect shoots, the higher the probability that the officer (or a bystander) will be injured or killed.
Civilians need to be educated in the realities of what happens or doesn’t happen in firefights. In talking about such subjects, I rely on documented research done by Use of Force experts, such as Mike Callahan and others. I bring footnoted articles so that civilians can easily look up the research themselves. In fact, I encourage them to do so. I remind them that I am educating them to be informed jurors, to be articulate and informed when speaking to kids and grandkids, or neighbors and co-workers about the realities of police work.
My call to action for police personnel circles back to depression and fighting back against it. In travelling through America, I meet many police officers and supervisors. In the past five or six years, every single cop I’ve met is ready to leave law enforcement. These cops are many years shy of retirement age. They are at the height of their abilities, often assigned to special units, such as K-9, SWAT, Hostage Negotiation, in addition to patrol slots. I understand their frustration, their sense of wanting to walk away from what feels like a silent enemy that will rear up after an OIS, as if the police officer was the “bad guy” for using deadly force against someone who was trying to kill him.
As much as I relate to these officers’ reactions, I wonder if a first step in fighting back isn’t to take a long, hard look at the positive statistics we do have to measure confidence in America’s police. “Gallup’s 2018 Global Law and Order report state[sic] that US and Canadian police are the world’s most trusted law enforcement officers based on a measure of confidence.” (Sipes, Leonard Adam, Jr., “American Police-The World’s Most Trusted Per Gallup,” www.crimeinamerica.net) In fact, the region of the U.S. and Canada shows an overall 82% of people “Confident in Local Police.” This percentage is higher than respect for the Supreme Court, television news, religious organization, schools, big business, and the presidency. (Sipes, see above.)
Let’s couple the overall confidence level that, apparently, most people have for local police officers and build on it. Let’s educate, educate, educate. It’s not effective to begin explaining use of force law or the realities of the three-second reactionary time for an officer to perceive a threat, draw, and fire after an OIS. Those of us who can speak up and educate the public must do it before a critical incident.
So that’s my challenge to all of you police officers and supervisors—educate the public to the realities of the job before there’s a crisis. Let’s all work to build knowledgeable jurors, logical-thinking teens, and thoughtful adults in our communities. Let’s build on the 82% of people who already view us with confidence.
Sarah Cortez is a 24-year police veteran with experience in patrol, undercover, bailiff, civil, and special assignments with a specialty in training sexual assault investigators. She has recently written Tired, Hungry, Standing in One Spot for Twelve Hours: Essential Cop Essays. To purchase this book, go to www.sarahcortezcop