(This Op-Ed by yours truly appears in Florida Today newspaper, 1/27/18)
Studies vary, but most list police officer in the top five of the most stressful jobs in America, just behind firefighter and active duty military service.
Policing is not only stressful, officers are constantly in the spotlight where one error, one misjudgment, can land themselves as a defendant in court or, at worst, in a grave. There are few jobs in this country where employees wear bullet-proof vests. There are few jobs where employees must respond to calls where violent conflicts are in process. There are few jobs where employees are required to confront dangerous criminals. It’s their job to enter, not evade, the arenas of danger, violence and hate.
There is no other job that comes with all these components.
Meanwhile, officers must always remain professional, stoic, even robotic. They must do what the manual dictates, and look the other way when protesters spit in their face or scream profanities in their ear.
It ain’t easy folks.
Nearly 900,000 law enforcement officers in America are sworn to perform their duties, no matter the risk. Roughly 140 cops will die in the line of duty each year. That doesn’t include serious injury. That also doesn’t address the misery for spouses, kids and family members when sudden death strikes.
These figures do not include suicides. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, police and firefighters are in sixth place among career statistics associated with suicide. In my 30 years with Miami-Dade County Police (1960-1990) I personally knew a dozen cops who killed themselves, including a woman named Hilda who had just lost her police job. Days later, she was found on the beach, with one bullet in her 4-year-old son and another in her head. In another case, a crime scene officer was being forced to testify against another officer, a friend. He refused. Some of these suicides are related to economic and domestic strife, not necessarily police work.
Yes, a rogue cop will occasionally mess up, or reveal that he/she should not have been a police officer. The system is not perfect. If only one-half of one-percent of 900,000 cops are dishonest, careless or proven incompetent, that would still leave 4,500 in America working in the wrong profession. It only takes one to make headlines.
It is normal to be angry at police officers who do wrong, regardless of race. But it’s far more wrong to broad brush all officers with hate rhetoric, suggesting that cops conspire to form a cabal of racists. The Black Lives Matter and similar movements did more to dis-empower policemen from doing their sworn duty than ever before. The victims of that were citizens such as you and me. In violent encounters as in Baltimore and Ferguson, the real victims were businesses, homeowners and law-abiding taxpayers while cops were ordered to stand down, basically stripped from performing their duties.
I’ve spoken to many officers in today’s America. They do what they are required to do, and for the most part, they do it well. But proactive policing has become a thing of the past. The hunt for stolen cars, the suspicious guys behind a building, the strange movements of swarthy people, the fingers of hate and disrespect toward cops often go unattended.
Cops are human beings like all of us. They are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, all religions, all races. They have kids to send to college, or help them through tough times. They have dreams to pursue and bills to pay.
And they bleed like us. I know. I’ve lost too many friends in Dade County. I’ve been to the emergency wards with my fallen comrades. I’ve attended funerals and comforted families. As for me, I was lucky: shot once in the leg. Proudly, I never seriously hurt anyone.
Would I be a cop today? What do you think?