Stress Is The Predator
BY ROD HENDRICK
RETIRED METRO DADE POLICE DEPARTMENT …1956 to1986
In World Wars I and II when a G.I. was discharged from the military service, some suffered from what was then called shell shock or combat fatigue. Following later conflicts such as Korea, Vietnam, and now Afghanistan it is now referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder.
As of lately in the past few years and especially now, when I have been in church or other gatherings, the speaker will sometimes ask all of the service men and women, both past and present to stand and they are given a round of applause, which they well deserve.
Sitting in the same church or hall there are police officers sitting along side these veterans. Usually there is no mention or thanks given to them. They stand and applaud the service men. Many of them are ex service men themselves.
Many police officers suffer from shell shock, “What” you, ask? “They have never been in combat”. Oh yes they have, maybe two hours at a time or two or three minutes at a time. They have been there, on the line, they have risked their lives repeatedly in the line of duty. Twenty to thirty years of brief combat encounters adds up to a lot of accumulated combat time. As a result a number of officers suffer from a milder form of post-traumatic stress disorder from time to time. They do not recognize the symptoms as they are slow and insidious. This is in most cases is only a temporary mild emotional trauma that goes away by itself, unbeknownst to the officer or others.
Police are taught in the police academies that they can be killed by kids, crooks, and housewives. They are taught hand-to-hand combat and they spend weeks on the firing range learning the fundamentals of pistol shooting. Some believe they are being taught how to kill people, much as the military does with its young recruits. But that’s not the case for Officers; they are being taught how to neutralize a situation; how to make sure a “bad guy” doesn’t have an opportunity to kill the officer or a citizen. Believe me they have plenty of opportunity to use all of this training.
What they are not taught is how to cope with the irregular working hours, the disrupted family life, the high rate of divorce, alcoholism, suicide and though infrequently, the homicide of a loved one.
A non police officer friend of mine stated to me that most police officers and retired police officers are a little hard hearted. I thought for a moment and said, you know you are right. He was right, police officers see the world differently than other people. They mostly live a life of isolation, many times self-imposed, in a quasi-military organization. Police officers have their own secret argot, a jargon, a language all their own. They also have a code of ethics an inner sanctum where outsiders are not allowed to enter. This only adds to their isolation even more.
Yes police officers remember the pedophiles’ the serial killers, the rapist, the battered and neglected children and the murder victims. These memories are embedded in their subconscious minds etched into their conscious memories.
Physiatrist's tell us that a person’s conscious mind can endure horror but the subconscious mind suppresses these experiences and does not forget them. The subconscious mind will not let it go, and some of the images hang in our memories like a wet blanket, like a physiological bank of crime scenes, sounds and cries of death and dying. Police officers stare death in the face on a daily basis. Luckily the conscious mind has a defense mechanism so one can survive in this continued human misery of their work environment.
A police officer friend of mine handled an accident where a 14-year-old boy was run over by a car, when he ran a stop sign on his motor scooter. The boy stayed under the car for 100 feet, the car and the pavement grinding him into hamburger, blood, guts and brains and bone parts. The remains of the youngster were smeared into the pavement. His body was mangled beyond recognition. After he had completed the accident report, he went to the boy’s home and informed his mother of her young sons death. She was home alone; he heard her screams of anguish and tried to comfort her to no avail. She collapsed to the floor. He stayed with her until the husband could be summoned and arrived home. These incidents do not go unremembered, ever.
He was working the afternoon shift and when he got home that night, his family was already in bed. He decided to have a nightcap. He unexpectedly drank much more than he anticipated. Why? The horror of what he had witnessed; his subconscious mind could not cope with it. This incident occurred thirty years ago; he tells it to me with sadness in his voice and with vivid details like it happened yesterday.
The stench of death settles into our minds and we don’t forget these memories, they are lying just below the surface, just waiting to leap out and remind us of our past. Police officers have old repressed unpleasant memories that are hidden away deep in the back of their minds, and sometimes they began to stir and surface unexpectedly with vivid clarity. Some memories never die. One retired officer explained to me that he has many good memories but also some not so pleasant in the mix. There is no way to escape the pain of the reality of his past experiences. There is no way to stop the past coming back to you; it is something that you have to live with. Some cope with it better than others.
Police officers have seen people who have been shot with shotguns at close range. People’s brains and flesh blown all over the walls, blood running out of people as thick as Jell-o. Watched victims bleed out, watched them die, held their hand and felt their last heart beat. They have seen women who were beaten to death, babies who have drowned. They deal with screaming drunken dope addicts, thieves, panhandlers, whores, their pimps and the scum of the earth on a daily basis. They work in the gutters of the devils’ playground. On the lighter side, occasionally a police officer delivered a baby. Many of these babies are named after the police officers that delivered them.
They have heard the screams of mothers, wives and husbands when they delivered the news of death. They have sat with them and tried to console them in their time of remorse. Incidents that they haven’t thought of for years, things they thought they had forgotten come creeping back into their conscious minds.
Many police officers die young. They have a very high rate of coronary disease due to stress and horror they have witnessed. The average age of death for a police officer is fifty- seven to sixty years of age. The rate of divorce is around seventy to eighty percent. They die prematurely, the predator is stress.
Police officers are exposed to stress in their work on a regular basis. Stress has been defined as, a state of unbalance where negative occurrences far outweigh the individual’s ability to cope with them.
Police Officers do not work in an arena of gladness or happiness. They work in a danger zone filled with despair, pain, hurt and bad news. This day after day of negative occurrences wears on the officer. Whenever, you see a police officer’s car speeding somewhere, he is not going to a pleasant incident. Someone has been hurt, dying, been robbed, or raped, something unpleasant has happened. There is a victim at the end of the officers run.
There is always an element of danger, but the officer knows this and accepts this as part of his sworn duty, it’s his job. He hopes and believes that he is doing something that’s makes a difference.
I don’t think officers are consciously worried about getting killed on the job, but they are aware of it and know that death stalks them. Most of them have a friend or have known a fellow officer who has been killed in the line of duty. The officers who are killed are mostly ambushed and shot at close range. There is really no defense against this, they know this. They work around the clock when it’s dark, when everybody else is sleeping the cops and criminals are awake, they are out there with them, chasing them, arresting them. Almost all police officers have been in what could have been a serious automobile accident. Police officers are beaten, stabbed, shot, spit on and cursed and shot at.
Many police officers work in a world of filth and human rot and sewage in the high crime areas, others work the better zones. Danger lurks everywhere for the police officer. He is taught in the police academy that anybody, a housewife or a kid, or an old man can kill you; never to let their guard down.
They are out there working right now, putting their lives on the line for you.
Police officers; hardhearted? Yes, sometimes they are!
They are also plagued by the tenderness taught to them by their parents, their churches and their friends as they were growing up. These empathies sometimes get them killed; feeling sorry for someone causes them to let their guard down.
Ever once in a while you see on the news where some old retired cop intervenes into a crime in progress and saves someone’s life. A few weeks ago a city bus turned over trapping a women under it. She was crushed and in great pain, screaming in agony. A police officer crawled under the teetering bus and held this woman’s hand and talked to her in her time of crisis until the bus could be lifted off of her. I am sure he considered the risk to himself and did not hesitate going under the bus with the woman. He witnessed her life ebb away, he had prayed with her. A hardhearted cop, a tough cop crawled under that bus. A cop crawled out from under that bus who could not conceal or suppress his compassion; his hard exterior crumbled, the tears flowing down his cheeks gave him away.
Like the old saying goes, “Once a Marine
Always a Marine” Well some have said, “Once a Cop always a Cop” Both statements are true.
Remember police officers have seen and done what most people have only seen on their televisions. They have a strong sense of personal duty to the public. There is also the satisfaction in knowing that they are doing a service for their fellow citizens. They are a dedicated band of brothers. They have a great camaraderie with each other and will put their lives on the line for each other and for you. Many have; many have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
God Bless these unsung heroes. If you should encounter a police officer, salute the badge and tell them “Thank You Officer” I appreciate what you are doing, you guys are doing a good job.” They won’t expect it and do not expect it, its their job. They may smile and say, “ You are welcome”, they may not. They may not show it. You have told them something they seldom hear. I am sure that they will appreciate the pat on the back.
I know that cops give you tickets, and they put you in jail. They also keep the peace; they keep the criminals at bay.
I know that the most encounters with police are not pleasant.
I just ask that you just be aware of what I have just related to you.
The longer a police officer is retired the more tragic memories fade into a hazy opaque mist, his sensitivity returns. Old memories of fellow officers they have known and loved come into play. Satisfaction that they served well and time heals many old wounds.
They have a dirty and many times a thankless job. There is a certain sense of responsibility, pride, excitement and danger in being a police officer. They like what they are doing or they would not be doing it. Hopefully they are content that they did a good job that they did what was expected of them. They do not expect your approval, never did, never will.
When or if they are asked to stand, most will not.
Copy Right: 2011