During my career I was shot at, stabbed, and had the snot kicked out of me more times than I would like to recall. I have been scared out of my wits a time or two, and experienced the thrill of an adrenaline rush brought on by life threatening encounters. I also had the pleasure of experiencing the release of all that power – or throwing up – whichever you want to call it. But, none of those moments compared to the fear I experienced on the day that a doctor told me my son, Richard Jr., had a tumor in his pelvic bone.
It was the worst feeling of fear I have ever experienced. It’s as if someone had ripped out a piece of my heart, and I still haven’t gotten it back yet. A few weeks after the initial test we received more bad news. Richard was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer that is only discovered in 200 kids each year in the U.S.; and one adult. Richard happens to be that one young adult.
It all started when he was injured during his summer Army National Guard training. He returned to The Ohio State University for his junior year of college and treatment for his injury; where an MRI uncovered the first of 4 tumors. The specialists at the Ohio State James Cancer Center told him the disease has a 30% survival rate. He was completely blindsided by the prognosis and his world has been turned upside down with chemotherapy treatments, stem cell harvesting, surgeries, radiation, and the lingering question of whether it will all work or not.
Like the human body, there are many cancers that attack the law enforcement profession, but unlike Richard’s Ewings Sarcoma, they are not unseen. They are often ignored but they are no mystery. I have only included 5 of the cancers that eat away at law enforcement, but you will undoubtedly have others that you would add to the list.
1. Violent Sociopathic Killers
There are plenty of sociopaths who are a cancer on all of humanity, and many have become more brazen when it comes to killing children or cops. They have no compassion for life and no problem ambushing a police officer, shooting up a theatre, or massacring children in a school – for no other reason than to murder them. The problem has become more complicated for officers who are constantly second-guessed by politicians and the media every time they pull their weapon or use any type of force. If they encounter a violent predator and then hesitate to consider the public perception, they may not be alive to worry about it later.
On January 1, 2011 Deputy Suzanne Hopper (Clark County, Ohio) was investigating a report of a window that had been shot out of a trailer the previous night. It was a Saturday morning and most residents in the trailer park were sleeping in from New Years Eve celebrations. She was about to take photographs of a shoe impression when the suspect opened his door and shot and killed her without warning. I knew Deputy Hopper and her story can be hard to tell, but that is how we pay tribute to those who have sacrificed everything as a guardian of justice.
Should we develop and participate in innovative training to protect ourselves and society, or simply hope that we don’t cross paths with one of these demons? Unfortunately, the latter mindset has been employed by some of the agencies across our nation.
“Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.” ~Theodore Roosevelt
2. Police Budget Cuts
Budget cuts will always create a multitude of problems for agencies to overcome while placing officers at higher risk from reduced manpower and a lack of effective training. At the present time there are slightly over 7 million people in prison, county jail, or under correctional supervision. Those numbers are even more shocking when you consider that there are only 795,000 sworn officers serving state and local agencies. Only one quarter of one percent of Americans serve as law enforcement officers – reminding us that we are always unique, and always outnumbered. But the budget cuts are not the cancer to look out for – self-pity and inaction are.
“Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.” ~Helen Keller
3. Perception of Police Training
I feel ill every time I hear a cop tell a new rookie, “Forget everything you learned in the academy,” or “A month in the academy isn’t worth one hour on the street,” or the worst, “The academy is over – now you’ll learn how to be a real cop.”
The academy is crucial to the success of our cadets and this type of careless statement can cause confusion and devalue all past and future training for a new cop.
Another common problem with our training is that it is intensely boring, and for no other reason than “that is the way it’s always been.” Have you ever been eager to share a story that you heard during speech, or a video you saw during training? Most likely, yes. But now picture a class you sat through that consisted of an endless slides filled with bullet points. Were you equally excited to leave the class and share bullet points of information with anyone? Not a chance. You were lucky to remember anything from the class other than how long it was.
You have undoubtedly encountered boring presentations during your academy or in-service training. But why is that okay? Which type of encounter should we be giving our officers that hold the liberty of others in their hands?
During my rookie year I had a reoccurring dream in which I was about to be killed, but my gun would not fire. I thought I was going nuts and I couldn’t imagine such a dream coming from our other macho cops. I finally mentioned the dreams to an old street cop. He explained that “Everybody gets those. I had them for a while myself. Don’t worry they will go away.” He was right. They did go away once I knew that performance anxiety dreams were common among law enforcers, but why wasn’t this mentioned a little earlier in my career?
As cops we don’t talk about PTSD, weird dreams, or other wimpy topics among ourselves and that continues to perpetuate the problem. Maybe that is why twice as many cops will commit suicide this year as will be murdered by felons.
Researchers found that the stress police offers endure on a daily basis puts them at a considerably higher risk for various long-term physical and mental health effects – compared to those in the general population. But our culture does not always look favorably on people who have problems – especially psychological problems. We are supposed to be John Wayne’s second coming and should never have to ask for help.
Some officers fear what will happen if they do let someone know they have a medical or emotional health need, and for good reason. If they are found to have health problems, they may not be allowed back on patrol or have their gun taken away. That is scarier to some officers than the actual disease that may kill them.
“In VALOR there is HOPE” ~Tacitus
5. Police Urinary Olympics
This may be the most common type of cancer afflicting the world of policing, and I believe it is the most damaging to the advancement of our profession. We suffer from police administrations that are out of touch with their officers and the realities of working the streets, and they will stay that way since they refuse to see it, hear it, or talk about it. We also have police officers who choose to create an alternate universe for cops, where the citizens they are suppose to serve are all the same – evil and stupid. They see themselves as a superior species of human being and create an “Us vs. Them” mentality that can spread like a computer virus. The only people they hold in lower regard are the chief and supervisors they serve under. Then there are the neighboring police agencies that refuse to work together and benefit their communities through a combined policing effort. Instead they hinder justice because of large egos and ridiculous rivalries.
Many of these problems continue to eat away at the body of law enforcement due to the Police Urinary Olympics, and it probably wouldn’t be so bad if they were only held once every four years but unfortunately they seem to be available year around. When we refuse to work on our collective problems because of false pride we are no better than those narcissistic people who inhabit our Capitol building in Washington.
“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who watch it and let it happen.” ~Albert Einstein
If it Walks Like a Duck
These issues are not new, but they just aren’t scary enough to inspire our people to take action against them. That is why I call them cancers, to remind us that they are eating away at the noble profession of policing while devastating many of our officers. You may think I am exaggerating a bit but that is the same thing cancer is trying to do to my son’s body.
Richard has just started his 6th round of intensive chemotherapy today. He will spend the next 5 days in the hospital, and he still has another 4 months of radiation, chemo, and surgeries to fight through. I cannot describe the feeling of watching while poison is pumped into your child’s body, causing a host of deadly side effects. I have never felt more helpless in my life, but without this life threatening medicine he would surely die. The treatments require a fight, and like a soldier, he has chosen to fight.
Will You Fight?
Everyone who serves as a law enforcer or police instructor has a choice to make. We can choose to fight the cancers that are trying to deteriorate the law enforcement profession and claim the lives of our officers, or we can watch as they slowly kill the nobility of policing. Like it or not, there is a heavy burden that comes with being a guardian of justice, and it requires more than one type of fight. There is a reason why we only ask for the finest to serve our society as worthy protectors.
“Choose to ‘Do Something’ for Law Enforcement Rather than Just ‘Be Someone’ in Law Enforcement.” ~Richard Neil Sr.
Richard Neil is the creator of www.LEO-Trainer.com, the web site dedicated to law enforcement educators and trainers. He is also the author of “Police Instructor: Deliver Dynamic Presentations, Create Engaging Slides, & Increase Active Learning” and the “Phalanx Law Enforcement” blog at www.PhalanxLE.com.
Help the fight against cancer by purchasing “Police Instructor.” The proceeds will help the “Special Wish Foundation” make dreams come true for children fighting cancer.