After sharing my life story with people, I am often told I should write a book. However, my biggest obstacle is time. I work full time as a father, husband, and substance abuse counselor. When I reflect and share life experiences that have prepared me for the next chapter of my journey, I am reminded of how the adversity has always helped me to grow. Several years ago I worked in law enforcement and encountered high risk situations where I believed force was required to maintain control over rapidly evolving events. Some of these events led to a chain reaction of civil suits, four to be exact, and also 2 indictments for using excessive force. At the onset, I didn’t readily know how to handle this experience I dubbed a crisis other than to remain stoic. I hired a great attorney but personally I felt like I failed at something I thought I was doing well at. I was deeply ashamed. I didn’t know who to blame or where to initiate an understanding of what was taking place.
After spending a few hours in a jail cell prior to my first appearance for the indictments, a peace took over my body that made me feel ok with whatever the outcome was going to be. During this experience in the cell I shared space with several other inmates. I saw other cellmates brought in by officers and jailers who opened and closed the lid of our jail cell. It reminded me of the relationship garbage men have with the trash they collect. In my mind, garbage men don’t care where the trash comes from or how it got there; most often they never build a relationship with the trash before they discard it; they consider themselves noble in what they do for the greater society and once the trash is collected, they discard it and go home. Not everyone is willing to collect trash but those who do, execute their duty with a belief that it’s making a difference. Again this is my metaphorical description of the cell experience and not a generalization or labeling on the men and women I saw that day. Like the garbage man collects trash, as a police officer, I also collected people this way and transported them to jail to never remember them again. Over 500 arrest in 8 years to be exact and now for the first time I was feeling what those arrestees felt. For me, sitting in that cell was an eye opening experience that made me investigate how the uniform changed my life. A few months later I was exonerated for the indictments and went on to finish my second masters in counseling. This experience shattered an ego and pride which initiated a humility that allowed me to learn and grow. I began working with the population I once metaphorically collected and disposed of. From this experience a new understanding awakened in my personal walk and on my global perspective concerning the relationship between community and law enforcement.
In my opinion, there is a great divide between the cultural experiences associated with law enforcement and the community it serves. The community vs. “Da Police” is what the fight card says and the reasoning behind this adversarial relationship is a lack of understanding fueled by historical oppressions, fears and politically correct dialogue. I believe this lack of understanding exist because neither is willing to communicate about the aspects of human nature that are considered taboo in a job like law enforcement and military. Officers are human like the rest of society. They live with vulnerabilities, biases and are also fearful and prone to making mistakes. Many of them hurt and feel, yet mask these emotions with defense mechanisms and a façade of fearlessness that discounts the natural attributes of human nature. To be human means to feel, care, love, communicate, etc. We give, receive and show these abilities at various times throughout our lives.
The reality is that emotions are carried on the job and weigh heavily on police officers who engage people that underappreciate what they do for the greater society. Police officers have to respond to high risk events like assaults, homicides and other dangerous situations because the job requires it. Very seldom do people call the police to participate in their family gatherings or cookouts. Officers only get the calls where they need to come fix a problem. It is only a matter of time before the impact of suppressing emotions start to manifest in their work or on their health.
Stress and heart disease are big issues in law enforcement and I believe it comes from officers suppressing their authentic feelings or not having an outlet as well as improper dieting and regular exercise. The law enforcement culture perpetuates a masculinity standard that frowns upon emotional expression which is a natural aspect of the human experience. This unrealistic standard impresses that officers should not show emotions. When officers are dealing with stress, how do they cope? When and where does this stress come out? Is it at the next traffic stop? Will it create inattention while on duty? Will they lose it at the range, in their home, or somewhere private where they commit suicide? Will they turn to drugs or alcohol? These are realistic accounts that should invite law enforcement personnel to seriously consider mandating a relationship with counselors. The purpose would be to assist cadets or veteran officers with mental health concerns, namely PTSD. These mental health concerns could develop over the course of an officer’s career or even be present during the psychological assessment but go unnoticed because people wear makeup to be more socially desirable. Psychological assessments are great mental health tools but they can be defeated. A therapeutic relationship with a counselor would sift through incongruences, multicultural concerns, and delve deeper than a 400 question assessment. This recommendation should be supported because it allows an officer to be proactive at addressing stressors that may impact their job performance. Emotionally competent officers will perform better than officers distracted by stress. This in turn improves self-awareness and relationships that police officers have with the community they serve. More to come on what officers can do to address daily stressors while improving relationships with their communities…
Kareem C. Puranda, NCC, LPCA, LCASA is a Counselor and an advocate for thedisadvantaged population and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org