FEATURED IN BELOW 100
The year 2011 has been a hard one for law enforcement. It began with a disproportionate number of officer deaths by felonious assault. Although those numbers have fallen off to a more predictable, but still unacceptable, level through the late spring, summer, and early fall months, has combined with on-duty deaths due to accidents and catastrophic health failures in a way that puts the LE profession on track to see its deadliest year since 2006.
Violence toward the police continues. In many jurisdictions, non-fatal assaults on officers are up, and there’s a corresponding increase in the incidence of officer-involved shootings in response. Although we’re not ready to go so far as to pronounce that there exists a war on cops, as some have suggested, it’s clear something is amiss – a greater desperation on the part of criminals, the mainstreaming of rage, an increased acuity among the mentally ill, the growing tendency to view LEOs as symbols of hated authority rather than people that calls us to redouble our emphasis on safety as we push through to 2012.
That’s exactly what Travis Yates calls for in his recent article 73 Days Left: Below 100, and we echo his sentiment.
The five basic tenets of the original Below 100 Initiative are what we must go back to:
- Wear your seatbelt.
- Watch your speed.
- Wear your vest.
- WIN: What’s Important Now?
- Remember: Complacency kills!
As much of what we focus on as law enforcement writers and trainers with mental health backgrounds is wellness, we want to focus on the last two, with emphasis on their application to physical and psychological wellness and how they lead to improved officer safety.
How Are YOU Doing?
It’s easy to sort our lives into boxes – where we maintain a work box, a home box, a hobby box, a friend box, etc – and believe that the contents of one box will never spill over into another. The truth is, spillage is inevitable and even desirable.
The problem is when spillage from one area of our life into another becomes dysfunctional on some level, a possibility we need to be aware of and defend against. So we ask you now: “How are you doing in your life mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and how does that impact your performance and especially safety on the job? Let’s take a closer look at some of those not-so-intangible factors and how they can impact performance and safety and why, therefore, tending to them – applying the tenet of WIN: What’s Important Now – is so critical.
As Brian Willis has pointed out so well as a leader in the Below 100 Initiative, “WIN is a simple but powerful acronym used by the famous college football coach Lou Holtz. Its meaning: What’s important now? He reminded his players at Notre Dame to ask themselves this question 35 times a day – when they woke in the morning, in class and study hall, in the weight room, on the practice field and when on the sidelines or on the field during games.
As law enforcement professionals, we need to take a lesson from Coach Holtz and ask ourselves this same question 35 times a day. Doing so, we’re forced to focus on what’s important in the moment, thereby prioritizing our mission and assessing the threats and the actions necessary to WIN that confrontation.”
So let’s look at “What’s Important Now” in a few critical areas, and see how they influence our ability to WIN a confrontation on the street.
How do you stack up against your “inner rookie,” that sharp and hard cop you were fresh out of the academy? Look around the department at your new guys, those flat-bellied FNGs who still get a kick out of a good foot pursuit, make physical fitness a priority, and don’t look at every visit to the doctor with dread for the scolding that’s sure to come about something they are not doing right or something they need to do better. Then look around at your vets -- or maybe in the mirror. See a difference?
Look, we’re all going to get old (hopefully), probably sick and eventually die. Death and taxes and all that, but why do we insist on courting it? We constantly hear how ours is the most obese, out-of-shape time in history, yet we collectively know more about fitness and have more fitness options available to us today than at any time in history. Rates of heart disease and preventable diabetes are through the roof, and the reasons why (and how to prevent them) are literally at our fingertips in this information age.
How is your physical health? You owe it to yourself, your family, the citizens you protect and your fellow cops to take steps toward health and fitness. When you assess your own fitness level ask, “What’s Important Now?”
How are your important relationships doing? Are you stressed, depressed or overstretched with too little rest? Maybe you do a good job on your body, eating right and hitting the gym regularly, but are you feeding your head and heart, as well?
A lot of cops realize the need to stay in good physical shape, or have made the conscious decision to get back in shape, but fail miserably when it comes to keeping their mind and emotions in shape. We become complacent in that regard, minimize the need, or choose to denial of problems over seeking help when things aren’t going so well. But here is a sobering thought: However many officers will die in the line of duty this year, you can be sure at least as many (and probably in number far surpassing the LODDs) will die off-duty, feeling alone and depressed, by their own hand. Many more will suffer family estrangement, anxiety disorders, depression and battles with addiction. Although there is no way to definitively connect most of these deaths and emotional injuries to the job, we believe many, if not most, are job-related to some degree.
Emotional and physical health is inextricably linked. Emotional fortitude – building an “emotional fortress of wellness” – is important to keeping your head in the game and staying physically safe. When you assess your mental status and all it entails, examining your relationships, happiness and home life ask, “What’s Important Now?”
We were doing some research recently and came across an interesting statistic gleaned from a study of police officers. A 1998 study of police officers (Force Under Pressure: How cops live and why they die, by Dr Lawrence Blum, PhD) found that “64% of police officers expect to be punished for doing their jobs. A similar number believe there is a strong likelihood their careers will be cut short by that trouble.” This is illustrative of a phenomenon, known as the “expectation of negative consequences,” common among police officers, and subsequent research, as well as anecdotal commentary and evidence, indicates there has been little change in police attitudes.
Whenever we write, teach or talk about morale the feedback is clear: Low morale continues to be a serious concern in law enforcement, at least among the rank and file, and threatens the figurative health of agencies and the profession and possibly even the physical health and safety of officers.
The causes of low morale are legion and often outside the control of most officers. What can be controlled, however, are how you react to, put into perspective, and lessen the impact of those causes. An overarching fear for many officers is getting in trouble for doing their job correctly, getting sued, being fired, losing their house and everything they’ve worked so hard for, and being drummed out of the profession they love and believe in. This fear is fueled by a belief in unreasonable laws and legal precedents, a liberal “cop-hating” judiciary ready to throw the book at honest, upstanding officers who acted in good faith and the bounds of law and policy, and multimillion dollar judgments arising out of an increasingly sensitive and litigious society. The result of this information stew is lowered morale, distrust of the system and department, and the opportunity to be hurt out of a fear of taking appropriate, lawful action.
But think about this: How many honest, upstanding officers do you know that this has really happened to, really? Is the scenario reality or myth? And of those relatively few officers you probably know of who were dragged before a court and punished in some way, were they really blameless?
Morale is often a matter of finding the right perspective for the moment and not allowing the moment to overwhelm judgment. When you find your morale dipping, take stock and then remember to ask yourself, “What’s Important Now?”
Remember: Complacency Kills!
As we push toward 2012 with a redoubled focus on the tenets of Below 100, avoid complacency both on the job and off. Complacency off-duty has an insidious way of carrying over into the job. Becoming complacent about “What’s Important Now?” as it applies to off-duty time threatens your safety and effectiveness on the job. Have fun. Stay safe. And keep asking yourself, “What’s Important Now?”
To read more about Law Officer's Below 100 initiative, click here.