Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Trouble with The Cops

The trouble with "The Cops" is that there's no such thing.

The term implies that US law enforcement is a homogeneous monolith, a single,blue entity recruited from the same population, trained the same way, paid at the same levels,
performing the same functions, and governed everywhere by the same laws and policies.

Nothing could be further from the truth.
And, unlike most topics, the Gordian knot of modern policing becomes more intricate the more you learn.

When a citizenry is already frustrated, partly because their only frame of reference for The Cops is the last TV show they watched (or a dimly remembered Civics class in high school), how do you explain that words they use don't even mean what they think they mean?
(You may go now, Inigo Montoya.)

Just look at 'sheriff'.
It's so traditional an office that cliches are built around it (there's a new sheriff in town!),
songs are written about it (I shot the sheriff...), and people who pretty much hate all other forms of law enforcement build romantic fictions around it.

It should be easy, then, to define 'sheriff'.
Everyone knows what they do.
Except, they don't.
No, Mr. Sovereign, the Olde English shire reeve wasn't your hero. He was an appointed judge and tax collector, answerable only to the king.
It gets more complicated from there.

In some states, sheriffs and their deputies have full police powers throughout the state, and consistent, mandated standards of training.
Those states (sometimes) also require that candidates for sheriff be POST-certified officers in their own right.

There are places (hi, Virginia!) where all you need to run for sheriff is to be a county resident, and registered to vote.
There are states with no sheriffs (Alaska, Connecticut, and Hawaii....although Hawaii has deputy sheriffs. So,that's weird.)
There are places where sheriffs don't investigate crimes--Pennsylvania, for instance--and states where each county decides whether or not to have one.
Los Alamos, NM, still has a sheriff, just one without significant police powers. The sheriff serves process and keeps track of sex offenders, mostly. Last fall, the position was nearly abolished by the city council who see little point in preserving it, when effective law enforcement authority has been delegated to the police department.

In New York, each county has an elected sheriff.
New York City, though, has one sheriff appointed by the mayor, who performs mostly civil and fiscal functions, with criminal investigation limited to matters of fraud.

Confused yet?
Try understanding what a constable is. Or does. Or doesn't, for that matter.

Texas constables are fully sworn and trained peace officers ; they are elected, and their deputies are also sworn and certified. They work alongside police and sheriffs, all with slightly different responsibilities, but more or less the same authority.
In Pennsylvania , constables occupy a grey area, elected and self-employed. Their compensation is the fees they collect for the warrants and civil process they serve. They're required to have 80 hours of training, a little more if they carry a weapon. The depth and breadth of their authority is a constant source of disagreement within the state's law enforcement communities.
*Pennsylvania state constable*

In other states--Kentucky, Massachusetts, and so on--constables are variously elected, appointed, trained, untrained, regarded as law enforcement, process servers, or filling roles other states manage with reserve officers, or CSOs.
California abolished the office of constable in the 90s, when it consolidated the courts.

A police officer may be one of thousands in an agency with state of the art everything, or they may be volunteers with a day job, in a village patrolled solely by reserves. Their authority may end at the city limits, or not till the state line.
In some states, city governments choose between a police chief, or marshal.
In others, marshals provide court security and civil process.
Or, all those offices may be filled by the sheriff's department.

It just depends.
It's confusing.

And if it's still a learning curve for me, part of a blue family for decades, who sits in on conversations with officers from across this country and at least two others, how much more so is it for teachers, and nurses, payroll clerks and Piggly Wiggly night stock help?

US citizens are highly resistant to far-reaching national standards, for anything.
For law enforcement, that insistence on local control (and therefore, local funding) means that officers from agencies that require college degrees and train constantly, make headlines right alongside officers working where they may be hitting the streets solo weeks, or months, before ever attending an academy.

When every single state---sometimes every county, or city--sets its own standards for certifying, training and hiring its officers, there has to be an understanding that The Cops are as diverse as the nation itself.

Somehow (I'm going with too much TV, again), news readers acquired the idea that every officer in a uniform should be a SWAT-trained, ninja marksman with a law degree.
That's not realistic, of course, or reasonable.

In a nation this fractious and individualistic, there's never going to be a case for a cookie-cutter cop.
I do believe there's a case for professionalism, at every level, and in every state, no matter what the uniform looks like, or what's written on a badge.

Ultimately, that's the decision that needs to be made:
How do we define a law enforcement professional?
I don't know if we can agree what it means to hire, to train, to compensate, to equip and retain professional law enforcement at every level.
I do know that if it can be achieved, the differences between The Cops won't matter.
There still won't be a big, blue monolith, but the differences won't be obstacles--they'll be strengths.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Talk

News coverage of the past three years has renewed discussion of The Talk.
Now a commercial, by a company better known for toothpaste than social commentary, makes it unavoidable.
Not the sex talk--the other one.
The Talk that people of color give their teenagers before going out into the streets on their own the first time:

"When a cop stops you, speak respectfully.
Keep both hands on the wheel.
Don't make sudden moves.
Don't get out of the car, or get anything out of your pockets, without permission.
Roll your windows down.
Turn the light on...." and so on.

Parents who love their kids give The Talk, because they're afraid, and don't want their kids hurt by the police.
They see the news. They've seen bad things happen.

What reporters and copywriters don't know is that cops give their kids The Talk, too, because they know the other side of the traffic stop, and that their officer always expects someone to try to hurt him.
They know it can happen, because they ,too, see the news.
They know it happens, because they know officers it's happened to--some who made it home, and some who didn't.

A cop's family has its own version of The Talk, no matter what the family melanin levels are, and it starts way before the kids can drive.

In pre-school, The Talk is short and simple:
A cop's kid is taught to obey quickly, without question, when Mom or Dad says, "To the house." or "To the car."
At that age, they don't know why. They just hear the tension in the parental voice, and go.
*Officer Jay Stalien and his daughter*

As soon as they can recognize one , they're taught about firearms.
It's part of The Talk, too.
Cops' kids go to the range early. It's not just about learning to shoot, it's about firearms safety, because where there's a cop, there's a gun. It's not a toy, it's a tool, and it's never 'safe'.

Bits and pieces get added to The Talk as the kid grows up; in a cop's family, The Talk is never really over.

"If I walk away from you in the store, don't ask me why and don't follow me. I will find you."

It's not always safe to be seen with Mom or Dad.

"If I say 'Get down', get down. If I say 'Run', then run. Don't stop to argue. We'll talk later."

The Talk includes learning the difference between cover and concealment (in case of active shooters at school),
when to run (out your bedroom window, quick, and then to the neighbor's house. I'll find you),
and when it's okay to fight.

Cops' kids learn dad or mom gets the bad guys, and protects the good guys, but not everyone knows the difference.
"Tell me right away if (a student, a teacher, a bully) has a problem with you, because of me."
"You will not start a fight, but you can always defend yourself, or someone else. And I will always back you."
(Bonus: cops' kids learn to defend themselves. Weaponless defense practice is on the house, literally. )

Part of The Talk is learning what not to talk about, or to whom to talk , or when.
For some kids, part of The Talk is learning to tell people "Dad works for the city" or "Dad's self-employed" (which he is--cops' families pay taxes, too).

Then one day, the tables turn, and it's the cop's kid who starts The Talk--not the one about traffic stops, the one about the Job. Kids watch news, too, and they see bad things happen.
That is the day they're not really kids, anymore.
*Palm Springs Officer Vega's grandson at his memorial, EOW 10/8/16*

So---own The Talk. Teach them what they need to know to be safe, to be healthy, to be resilient.
Teach them what they need to know to honor the fallen and look after the hurting, without living in fear.
*Father and son at the CHP Memorial, summer 2016*

The world doesn't need more fear. There's no 'your world' or 'my world'. It's just our world.
We all want peace, and safety, and smart, tough, flexible young adults who grow into our future, no matter what we do for a living. If we're very blessed, they want to be just like us. If we do it right, maybe we're worthy of that.
Maybe The Talk starts every morning, in the mirror, and sounds a lot like The Golden Rule.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Damn Lies and Statistics

*Updated 12/31/2017*
It's been rough out there.
Despite the new figures for 2017, showing a decline from last year's startling line-of-duty death statistics, the bad guys squeezed in a few last blows. This morning,a young husband and father was ambushed and killed in Colorado. Four of his fellow officers are hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
When I first published this post in June, 2017,four officers have been shot in one day-- one at either end of California, and two in San Antonio.
Another California deputy was shot with his own weapon by an 'unarmed' man the day before that, and so was a CO in Tennessee.

While I wait for word about their prospects for recovery , that list of 'Most Dangerous Jobs' comes to mind.
You know the one: every keyboard commando and cop hater on the planet keeps it bookmarked.

Loggers. Commercial Fishermen. Roofers. Truckers. Pilots. Farmers.

All honorable and necessary professions.
All risky. No argument there.
But that's not the point, at all. There IS a point, and people who compare those risky, honorable professions to the hazards of law enforcement are missing it.
The refrain is getting old --
"Being a cop isn't even dangerous. More (fill in the blank with career choice) die every year than cops."
Way to misuse statistics.
Without getting into a lecture about trendlines, working analogies, margins of error, gross numbers vs. per capita or per hundred-thousand, and the like, let's just get to that point.

Casualties in all those other occupations represent industrial accident.
No crab pot, bucket of hot tar, snapped cable, or toxic manure pit sets out to kill the fisherman,roofer, logger or farmer because they're at work.
Trucks don't jack knife because they had a bad driver once, their truck friend got impounded last week, and this driver said something they don't like.

There's nothing personal about mechanical failure, or the fact of gravity.
Malice is the exclusive purview of humans.
Some police officers die in very sad accidents, or of the frailty of their regrettably human bodies.
The rest are murdered.
It's not the same, at all.

There's more to that refrain up there ^^ It goes like this:
"But fewer cops die in the line of duty now than ever before in history!!"
And that's true.
It's also true that fewer infantry soldiers and Marines die in combat than ever in history, and for the same reasons, but no reasonable person argues that war is 'safe'.

So, what are those reasons, anyway?
1. Ballistic armor, and
2. Faster access to ever more sophisticated trauma care.
That's it.
"Less death" doesn't equal "safe".

I know I said I wouldn't talk about trendlines, but here's one anyway.
Take a look.

See when that trend peaks, and then really starts to fall? That's the mid-1970s, when ballistic armor first became widely available for law enforcement agencies to purchase.

When you can look at numbers reflecting officers attacked who survive, the numbers are holding steady, for years now.
There are thousands of officers, and their families, who face down life-altering, sometimes career-ending, wounds every year, utterly unnoticed by the public.

They're real, with real people who love them, the ones who fall, and those who survive to battle on.

Challenge the propaganda.
Break the silence.
They're worth it. You're worth it.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Till the End : Requiem for a Rural Badge

A rural badge fell in the high plains of northern California, the part no one ever sees in the movies.
There are more pronghorn and ravens there than humans,but even the humans can be wild,as dangerous as any city dweller;
they are untamed rather than feral, refusing to abide by the rules people agree to when they come together.
Dangerous people thrive in empty spaces.
The deputy answered a call, like he did every shift, and this time was greeted with rifle fire before he could leave his rig.

Help is hard to come by way up there, in the open range past the mountains.
The sheriff rolled backup himself ; it was supposed to have been his call, but his deputy beat him out the door.
When the 'officer down' crackled across the air, despite the distance, five sheriff's offices, two police departments, two federal and three state agencies sent officers to respond, as well.
Some of them drove Code 3 for hundreds of miles.
When no single agency has enough people, they all work together even if they've never met.
Family is family. You don't get to pick them, but you run when they call.

Local fire and rescue crews set aside shock and grief, and bad memories of their own, to give the rural deputy any small chance he might have, where the nearest "big" hospital was hours,not minutes away.
In country like that, every single one of them would know, not just his name, but him.
The loss is not symbolic, or theoretical, but very, very personal.

It's hard not to feel alone, in a setting so remote.

Weeks later, a note arrived to my inbox.
The writer had a story to tell me, and asked me to tell you. When loss is raw, we need reminders that we are not alone.
She wrote:
"I was at the **** ****** Cemetery today because it was my late father's birthday.
It is an amazing place, with sage brush, bucolic cow pastures and majestic views of Mt.Shasta.
*photo by Loree Johnson*

I came very late, knowing that Deputy ***** was being laid to rest; I did not want to disturb the procession.
I hoped to pay my respects in private.
I did not attend the memorial as it was too close to home(my daughter is a new police officer,the same age, and tears were shed all day).
When I drove out to the cemetery I passed police vehicles constantly.
I arrived to the most reverent and heart wrenching sight.
It made me proud to be in the blue family, and so sad for the brothers and sisters in uniform.
About thirty officers were left at the cemetery , dressed in formal uniform,
trading turns at the four shovels and laying Deputy **** to rest. They would take their turn with the shovel of dirt, and go to the end of the line, silent, reverent and with love.
They had his six until his last time on earth.
I wish everyone could have felt the love and pain.
The senseless murder would stop.
This family is strong.
Thanks for having this page."

I really didn't have anything more I could say, except, no ma'am, thank you.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Leaving Mayberry: 2016

It's time to dispel the myth of Mayberry.
2016 was a violent year for all law enforcement.
For those in small towns and remote places, the impact was disturbing and disproportionate.
The very first officer killed in 2016 was ambushed in a tiny Ohio town; the very last officer to fall died responding to a domestic disturbance in an even smaller Pennsylvania village.
In between were dozens of other rural officers, broken and killed by risks seldom acknowledged by a public convinced that "nothing ever happens in small towns."

In the real world numbers,not headlines, tell the story, and LESMA's Officers Shot in 2016 spreadsheet has the numbers.
(LESMA tracks officers shot as a measurable segment of attacks against officers. Please don't read anything more into that choice than simplicity of documentation.)

In 2016:
*278 officers were shot.
*85 of those officers were shot in areas with a population of less than 30,000 residents.
*48 of the officers were shot in areas with fewer than 11,000 residents, the smallest area being Hesston, PA (pop. 631), where a Pennsylvania state police officer fell at the very end of the year.

A quick look at fatalities:

A total of 278 officers were shot nationwide; 63 of them died.
85 officers were shot in areas with residents numbering <30k ; 25 of them died. In areas with population <11K, 48 officers were shot, and 17 of those were fatalities.

Raw numbers don't really mean anything. What story do the numbers tell? Break them down, and we will see:

As the numbers above demonstrate, when the town gets smaller, the fatality rate for wounded officers gets higher--a lot higher.
Officers from small towns and rural areas face substantial risk, with fewer resources and certainly, less press about the dangers of the job they do.
And there's the story; I've suspected it for a long time, but this is the first time I've had an entire year of data to interpret.

The next question has to be: Why?
As far as I know, no one has ever asked that and looked at the reasons behind it. All I can offer is speculation, based on my personal observations and knowledge of rural areas.

It's common for rural officers to work alone, with backup far away. That translates to : no one to provide cover, and no one to help a downed officer, pack his wounds, help with a tourniquet, or call for aid if he cannot.

It's common for rural officers to work where budget constraints mean working without safety equipment that's taken for granted in cities:
ballistic armor, patrol rifles that allow distance between suspect and officer, tourniquets, rifle plates , even reliable radio coverage.
Rural residents and elected officials tend to talk a good talk about law and order, and 'backing the blue'.
The harsh fact is that talk isn't support.
Encouraging words and blue porch lights, while welcome and appreciated, don't provide equipment, training or additional patrol positions.
Self-reliant country attitudes frequently coincide with resistance to adequate tax bases and growth of government agencies that allow for realistic coverage.

Rural areas and small towns rarely have rapid access to sophisticated trauma care.
Some don't even have small, critical access hospitals that can stabilize a wounded officer for transfer to higher levels of care; when they do,getting to them often involves long waits, and longer transports.
Time and distance are the enemy of the Golden Hour.
Again, I cannot prove that this directly contributes to increased mortality rates, but it seems a reasonable conclusion to make.

When an officer like the detective shot and critically wounded in Douglas County, CO, can be in a trauma center within minutes--and survive--but a Navajo officer shot early in 2017 lay helpless until a passerby found him, and struggled without cellphone service to get him medical aid , it's a hard comparison to avoid.

I can't prove a connection, but I would like to find out if more rural officers are shot with rifles than are urban officers. Country life and rifles go together in a way they can't in a city.
Handguns are easily concealed, and widely available in urban settings. Long guns? Not so much.
It's hard to stick a rifle down your pants, and it won't fit in your pocket.
In rural areas, rifles are like pickup trucks: plentiful, common and not worth a second look, let alone suspicion--
and soft armor won't stop them.
Maybe eventually we can start tracking weapons used in critical incidents, but right now that data simply isn't available to me.

My favorite question is, "Then what?"
For this problem , 'then what' is: get the word out.
Mayberry IS a myth.

Start by sharing this information with department heads, county and municipal administrators and news agencies to confirm that YOU ARE facing real and present threat, that deserves to be addressed and mitigated.
Administrative and reporting decisions are currently based on idealistic and outdated impressions of what "rural" means.
Data is much, much harder to dispute than an idea.

A case needs to be made, nationwide, that law enforcement agencies in every place and at every level have worth and dignity, and deserve to be trained, equipped and staffed appropriately for the jobs they are asked to do.
Failure to do so is a decision in itself.
It is also a moral and ethical choice--the wrong one.

The real problem impeding these solutions isn't budget, it's will.
That's even harder to overcome, in some ways, than figuring out funding streams or accessing training.

Asking communities to help their officers address these risks requires the citizens to admit publicly that their safe, quiet little town isn't really what they wish it to be.
It means giving up false, fuzzy facades of the 'good old days'--which weren't really all that ideal anyway (but that's another blog post).

Of the 63 officers shot so far in 2017, 26 of them were in places smaller than 30,000 residents, including five of the 13 fatalities.
If no one else is looking at that number, then we have to make them see.
News coverage is deceiving: large urban areas are reported as threatening and scary.
"The country" is idealized and Disneyfied.

This is real life, and you live it.
Mayberry never was a real place.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Making Sense of Forgiveness

The veteran law dog smoothed his white mustache, and trained his blue eyes on me.
They were lit by anger decades old, and frustration.
He was a new follower of the Jesus who leads me,too, and was struggling furiously with the ideas of forgiveness, and loving his enemies.
The more he read in the new Bible he'd brought to the little home group, the clearer it became:
he could not escape this instruction. And it made no sense to him, at all.

He first put on a badge during riots; he'd fought and won in three gun battles on the streets of Los Angeles, and seen bank robbers roll past the branch where his detail was posted, to start a little war outside another.
He'd been to far too many funerals.
When he 'retired', he started another career working with and watching the back of a rural marshal who valued his loyalty and years on the road.
He was a deputy, a friend, a brother who would willingly kill or die to protect the defenseless, and those whom he loved.
He was a warrior, and the father of warriors.
And he was a Christian now ; reconciling all those pieces wasn't coming easily.

"Why should I forgive them? Pray for my enemies?
They tried to kill me. I survived because I was angry, because I could fight back.
They don't deserve to be forgiven."
And he was right.
I've heard the same from other officers: some betrayed by those they trusted--family blood or blue,
some broken by the work they undertook so eagerly, now in pain, too often alone, crippled by bitterness and disappointment as much as by bullets, or tons of high speed metal and wheels.

I knew the right answers, and I could find the passages from the Sermon on the Mount,in both Matthew and Luke :
pray for your enemies. Love those who hate you.
Forgive others so you can be forgiven, because the measure you use will be the one the Father uses to measure out your own reward. I could move on to New Testament letters, reminding me that because Christ forgave me, I have no right to withhold my forgiveness from someone else.
I'd read all that.
So had my confused and angry friend.

He understood command structure, and this was a command : Forgive. Pray. Love.
Police work is paramilitary; an imperative was familiar ground, like it was for the Roman commander who asked Jesus to heal his dying servant--
"I am a man under authority, with men under me. I say 'go' and they go and say, 'come!' and they come. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed."

So, I started with that: the things of God don't always make human sense, so we choose to do what He says as an act of personal discipline, even if that's all it is, at first.
I reminded him that he chose this new Captain, this King, and that this was the direction he was given.
My friend accepted that as a place to begin, and stepped forward on the next part of his new path.

I still felt like my explanation was lacking. It really said more about my friend's faith than my wisdom, that he'd accepted it as enough.
Then, a few church services ago, I pulled out the insert in the announcement bulletin--the one with all the little Q &A's , and pithy columns, that everyone glances at, and throws away.

A board member was still reciting bits of churchy news, so I gave the little pamphlet a second look, and stopped. I read it again. This week's question was about....what forgiveness isn't. That was new.
And it made so much sense, I kept it and read it again, at home.

It said, simply:
Forgiveness doesn't ever mean that what the other person did was okay.

Forgiveness doesn't nullify your suffering.

If someone shot you, or ran you over, if your marriage fell to infidelity or addiction, or someone you trusted stood you up on a hot call--that happened.
Consequences echo in the physical world; forgiveness is in your heart and mind.

Forgiveness doesn't mean you have to trust the other person.
In my friend's case, that could never happen anyway-- most of the people he was still angry at, were dead.

Forgiveness doesn't always mean you have to reconcile; sometimes that's not possible, and sometimes it's not safe or healthy. God expects us to be wise.

Knowing what I didn't have to do made forgiveness easier to accept, and a lot easier to understand.
From personal experience, grudgingly at first (okay,fine, for months ) praying for people who had caused our family harm---the kind that makes bad dreams, and interrupts careers-- we had learned letting go of anger and bitterness meant new peace in our minds, and in our home.

You would never continue to wear your body armor and duty belt when you retired. You don't need it any longer, and it's heavy.
It digs in all the wrong places, and you can never forget that you have it on. Over time, the weight damages your back.
You don't have to carry the things from the past that you don't need any longer, either.
That's why we're told to forgive, even--especially--when the other person doesn't deserve it.
It's not about them. It's about what permits us to heal, and become who we're meant to be.

My friend never needed that brilliant little epiphany, by the way.
He's run far ahead, growing in peace and wisdom that few men of his years and his past get to know.

I was the one who still needed the explanation.
And, there it was.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rural Badge Problems #2

If you get dispatched to a road hazard at 3 a.m. and it's a herd of mules on a two lane highway, you might be a rural badge.

If you've worked traffic control for a cattle drive, you might be a rural badge.

If your investigator waits on his tailgate for hours before starting an OIS investigation because the grow site's so remote a helicopter is longlining the JTF guys out two by two, you might be a rural badge.

If you've not only evacuated backroads ahead of wildfires, but also saved the good parts of your MREs for the little kids you escort, you might be a rural badge.

If your agency's 'vehicles' include horses, ATVs and snowmachines, you might be a rural badge.

If your shift is more like the second season of 'Justified' than anything from 'End of Watch', you might be a rural badge.

If you roll your eyes when your chief hires someone from a big city because you know he's never lifted a print or processed a scene by himself, you might be a rural badge.

If you know from experience that two adult Nubian goats or one miniature donkey fits in the rear of your vehicle, you might be a rural badge.

If the last guy who backed you up in a fight was the same guy you arrested the month before for public intoxication, you might be a rural badge.

If you drove Code 3 for forty minutes to respond to a robbery in progress, and when you arrived the bar patrons had disarmed the robber, hogtied him and resumed drinking, you might be a rural badge.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Don't Leave Your Wounded

Gonna preach for a minute; if you're from anywhere an officer has recently been harmed--Boise, Houston, Orlando, Louisiana, some little town in Oregon-- fill in the blank: this is for you.
If you aren't but you know someone who is--please pass this on.
Let's assume that, so far, everybody's still breathing. That's good. But it's not all.
One of your officers is still critical. Your chief, or sheriff, has made it clear that this officer faces a long, hard recovery.

Today, that's pretty raw, and probably, everybody's talking about it. There are cards, and flowers, and someone took cookies to the PD, and maybe some people are raising money.
Family members of someone very sick, or very badly hurt, face a lot of sudden, impossible-to-budget-for expenses.
So, thank you. That's a good thing.
Here's the hard part.
It's going to sound harsh, and maybe insensitive.

A lot of officers have died in the line of duty this past year, and it's been exhausting and painful.
But those officers, once the solemn ceremonies and parades are over, are at rest.
Their families struggle; but the officer's fight is over.


There's nothing graceful or photogenic, or particularly poignant about coming back from multiple gunshot wounds.
It's scary. It hurts. It's ugly. It's frustrating.
It takes way longer than anyone thinks it should.
It's hard on your family.
Everyone worries about jobs--the officer's, the spouse's, the benefits that are on the line. Family medical leave doesn't pay, literally. Spouses or parents become caregivers, sometimes for a while, sometimes forever.
Headlines fade. Other stories break. The attention of people whose loved ones aren't full of slowly mending holes begins to wander.

Don't leave your wounded behind.
You'd willingly have died with him. Died for him.
Help him live.

Be the one who's still there. Be the one who still calls.
Be the one who visits, even when it's awkward, or you think you've run out of things to say.
Be the one who DOES things-- after nearly 30 years in a cop's family, I can promise you, there is some home repair or car repair that was interrupted by this inconvenient critical incident.

So, mow lawns. Take the dog to the vet.
Fix that drywall. Replace that faucet. Use your imagination.
Use your eyes, and do what's in front of you.

Do not wait for them to ask. They will not.
*helping renovate wounded Cpl. Holtry's home*

It's not really about what you DO, anyway. It's not.
It's about your officer and his family not being abandoned.

The saddest thing an officer has said to me since I created The Rural Badge, after he got hurt, is "If I had died, I wouldn't be a burden."

If he's your hero today, that matters.
It matters even more what you and the people of your community, do tomorrow, and next month, and in the years following,
if it comes to that.
I'm trusting you.
And I'm trusting the thousands of readers of this page to spread this word, not just for Boise,or Houston, King City, Ballwin or Joplin, but for the hundreds and hundreds of wounded officers in every single state.

If they called for backup, you'd come.
This is your call.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Superheroes, and You

Watched Civil War again last night, and got talking about our deep thoughts on the matter; yeah, we're a house full of nerds that way.

The themes of that film, Batman v. Superman and The Incredibles collided---
Fear by the public of the use of strength and authority, to defy and contain evil. Sound familiar?

I don't think it's coincidence that this theme keeps repeating itself, and that it is the the heroes who are doubted, second-guessed and criticized for fighting what needs to be fought, even when it's hard, when it's messy, when the outcome doesn't always seem clear.

And each film resolves the same way: the heroes are needed, but not loved.
Their consciences require action, to protect those who cannot defend themselves.
Their community, troubled by what they do not understand, is still better with them than without them---and that ultimately they are admired, and emulated, but never completely accepted.

Sound familiar? That's you. That's the ones you love.
Your Sunday comics came with a moral this week.
You're welcome.
*image by No Greater Love Art *

Saturday, February 18, 2017

To the Deputy in the Shooting Yesterday

Dear Deputy,
A reader sent a headline to my inbox yesterday. It didn't say much, yet, but it was about you.

You are the deputy who shot a gunman in a remote little lake resort yesterday.
I don't know you, but I know your life.
It's my family's life, and we've walked your walk.

You work alone.
You're always far from backup.
Your radio doesn't reach dispatch, as often as it does.
Nearly everyone you contact out here in the country is armed.
A lot of them have rifles, and you know your vest doesn't stand a chance.
Your department doesn't have body cameras, or dash cams, and they don't send you to training often enough, or have range except when you're qualifying, so it's all on you.
And yesterday, it was all on you , again.
*photo by DanSun Photo Art*

When you could go home, you were exhausted and keyed to the breaking point---but you went home.
Your friend who's a deputy too, drove you and stayed with you for hours; he sat where you could see him, so you'd feel safe and finally get a little rest. Every time you opened your eyes, he was there.
You'll never forget him for that.
Eventually he had to go home, though ; his wife had to go to work, and there's no childcare provider in this small town who works her shift.

Maybe you shook or threw up, once you knew no one could see you, except your wife.
She doesn't care; you came home.
You held each other that night instead of sleeping, and wondered if it was okay to cry now, or if you shouldn't, because maybe you wouldn't stop. No one ever trained you for this part---everything up to pulling the trigger, sure.
Not a thing for anything after that, so , you just don't know.
But you did come home.
She looked at your hands, and in your eyes, and wondered if you were different, now that you'd killed someone. Then she felt weird for thinking about that, even to herself. Who thinks that? Who ever has to?
Yes. You will be; but you're still you, and you came home.

People you work with don't know what to say.
One said 'Congratulations, great shot.' That was awkward.
A lot of them shook your hand, and a few patted you as they walked by,and nodded, and tried to decide whether to make eye contact. A dispatcher hugged you, and she cried. And then, she walked away as fast as she could.
They're glad you came home.
But, they don't know what to do either. No one trained them for this.

The investigation is still going on. Your name hasn't been released yet, but it's a small town. Everyone knows. Everyone knows the suspect's name, too.
Everyone knows where you live.
Your kids go to school with the suspect's siblings and cousins, or kids, and there's nothing you can do about that because, well--
it's a really small town.
There's only the one school.

There's only one grocery store; while your wife is waiting in line there, she'll hear two women in front of her talking about 'what you should have done.'
Her cheeks will burn, and her eyes will narrow and fill with angry tears, but she won't confront them.
And she'll never forget it.
She'll buy her fresh green beans, and chicken thighs, and juice boxes, and head to the car in the rain, rehearsing all the things she could have said to them, but didn't.
She'll tell you about it later, words like automatic fire, and you won't know what to say back.

You'll be criticized and second-guessed online, by people who weren't there and didn't have to make that choice.
Teachers will talk about the suspect, no matter how long ago he graduated, and insist there had to have been some other resolution.
Even though the toughest choice they ever faced was whether or not to send that suspect to the office, they'll still talk about what you should have done, when the choice the suspect gave you was 'die' or 'shoot him instead'.

It's not fair. That's okay to think.
You did deserve better. It's okay to be angry, at least for now. The final choice was in the suspect's hands, not yours.
You did your best.
It's okay for your wife to be angry, with the suspect, with anyone who speaks badly of you. It means she loves you.

Remember, you came home. Start there.

When you have your fitness-for-duty evaluation, and they send you back on the road, if your sheriff is lazy and doesn't find resources to help you find your new normal, find them your own self.
The interwebs are an infinite resource. I wish we had had it, when we walked your walk.

There's Cop Church , and they're always there. You can call them, and email them, and their messages stream online and in podcasts. They're real people, cops like you, with families like yours; it's just that they're ministers and counselors, too.
Trust me, the nice marriage and family counselor in your little town has no idea what your life is like now. 'Police stress' is not a relationship problem, but it can make one.
We already tried that, so I'll save you and your wife that step.

There's 1st Help , and they're always there. They know stuff, and they know people, and they exist to help you find the right ones.

And there's the First Responder Support Network , too, on the west coast. I really, REALLY wish I'd known about them.

You'll discover other officers right where you live, ones you never knew much about before, have been in shootings, too.
They just don't talk about it much. If they reach out, reach back.
They won't offer if they don't mean it.

And they know some things you'll face weeks or months from now, when everyone else acts like they've moved on, or that maybe your trouble is contagious:
They know you're not crazy, no matter how you feel.
They know it's normal to have an abnormal reaction to an abnormal event.
They know this won't last forever.

You don't have a peer support system, or critical incident management team, or a chaplain. We didn't either.
Ultimately, it was faith and family who brought us out the other side.
You're just starting down this road. We walked it.....well, a long time ago. But we're still standing, and so will you.

I can't fix it. I can only offer what I know, and what I have, and hope you'll take it.
When I run out of words (even I eventually run out of words), I pray. When I run out of prayers, I read this psalm.
I'll give it to you, now, and wish you peace tonight, and rest.
Your world won't always be upside down.
*photo by DanSun Photo Art*

Psalm 91
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

You're home. You came home.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Thoughts on President's Day 2017

This past year has brought politics to an acidic boil , like little in recent memory. On the week we observe President's Day, and Lincoln's Birthday, I realized that it is memory that's the problem--because none of this is new.

A wise man wrote, thousands of years ago "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." And so it is.

When politics and society get confusing, frightening, disorienting, it's useful to look back, and see where we've been.
A short memory, and even shorter attention span, are peculiarly American faults.
History can help us with that.

President George Washington, our very first elected head of state, a man so revered some new U.S. citizens wanted to make him king, was also the only president to personally lead troops to forcibly put down a budding rebellion over paying taxes--
taxes on whiskey, no less.

President Lincoln, the righteous and upright defender of the union and of civil rights, also completely suspended habeas corpus, to effect the arrest of a state legislator who was interfering with the movement of Union troops.
That moved overstepped the authority of the president, and was ultimately overturned by the courts--but it got the job done at the time, and stands to remind us now of three things:
1. all members of executive offices will try whatever seems effective to get their jobs done,
2. that's why we have checks and balances and
3. given enough time, checks and balances work.

Then there's President Jefferson, the darling of libertarians and isolationists alike.

Except, for when he isn't.
Few of the 'small government' zealots remember, and fewer still like to be reminded that, perfect world wishful thinking aside, Jefferson was also the first president to build up the Navy AND deploy it abroad, Marines onboard and hungry to fight as ever......for the purposes of pounding into the dirt a foreign government that had been harassing and impeding our merchant ships.

To his everlasting credit, Jefferson first tried diplomacy, payoffs and coalition building. When they didn't work long term, even he packed it in, and resorted to force. Overseas. With our military. To protect business.

Teddy Roosevelt is (a little) more recent president, and one with long, close ties to modern policing. He's also the president who first saw the value in setting aside wild spaces for future generations, and impacted national parks and refuges like no other before or since.

More to point in (very) recent history, TR is the president who created the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
,recently the location of a weeks-long standoff, and now a subject of great controversy.

History is the long game.
We've gotten past all that stuff, above.
We'll get through this, too, and we'll still be One, From Many, when we do.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why 'War'?

'War' is a loaded word.
It carries baggage, history and emotion.
It evokes pictures and memories, from personal experience, or news articles,or art, or history.

A 'war on police' has been angrily, tearfully debated for at least two years now.

Writers who embrace the term choose it deliberately, and cite high profile conflicts, and line of duty death statistics to support it.
Video clips of activists carrying vulgar pickets, marching and calling out for the killing of cops, and quotes from political speeches defending them, filter through their articles and circulate on social media.

The writers who reject it cite their own statistics, full of rising survival rates over decades (without mention of influences like the invention of Kevlar), and anecdotes of police misconduct to support their position. Those writers vilify the term 'war' as hyperbolic and divisive:
How, they ask, can an officer who regards his community as the enemy--or even a potential enemy--truly act in their best interest?

Commentators and activists who reject the phrase 'war on police' most forcefully cite an 'us v. them' mindset, and the imagery of officers as soldiers, as opposed to 'peace officers' and 'public servants'. Words like 'oppressor' are offset against concepts of protectors of their communities, and fellow citizens.

Dozens of the officers who have been shot, stabbed, beaten or run over in the recent past--some who recovered, some who died, and some who will battle pain and disability for the rest of their years--were military veterans.
'War' is a literal thing to them.
An entire generation serves in uniform now, who do not remember a time before we were at war abroad.

I think they have chosen the term 'war' for what they face in the streets at home because it does separate them, and set them apart. I have heard from vets, now law enforcement officers, who've said they feel more anxious here, now, than they did overseas.
There, they knew who their enemy was. They knew what they could expect. They knew their families faced no threat from that enemy. They knew when their deployment was over, they would fly home, and leave that enemy behind.

Now wearing a badge, they re-deploy every night, try their best to switch gears every morning to come home, and often find the streets have followed them home, to threaten their families as well.

Many of the officers who fell to gunfire in 2016 were military veterans. They survived sandbox deployments to fall at the hands of fellow citizens in the streets.

If it's war, then those are enemies-- foreign, exotic, impossible to explain, separate.
If it's not war, then officers will have to admit to themselves and the ones they love that it's their neighbors who wish them gone, wish them harm, wish them dead.
I think it's more than they can manage, to accept that, to try to explain that to their children or their parents.

I don't like the phrase 'war on police'. Loaded language makes people stop reading, stop listening , unless they already agree with you, and that's part of the problem.
So, I don't use it much.
But I can understand those who do.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Unplanned Growth and Inconvenient Truths

Haven't even had my second cup of coffee, and I already need to clarify some stuff.

In the past two days, a bunch of stuff has happened:
the FB page passed 10,000 likes, just one year in,
that's drawn a lot of new readers to the page,
I ticked off a bunch of sovereigns masquerading as " patriots" and shortly thereafter banned them,
had a millenial know it all condescend to me about what he thinks I don't understand about MJ regulations,
and now I'm getting scolded for 'fake news' about the silliness of New Mexico's laws that regulate sheriffs.

So, here's the thing:
I do this on my own time.
I don't have anything to sell.
I don't answer to any department head.

Add those things up:
I answer to 1. the truth and
2. my personal insights into those issues, in that order.

Before you pick a fight with me (which you won't win, btw--
I own the banhammer, and I don't like rants, trolls or drama), understand that I am a believer in fresh air and sunshine, even when it's inconvenient.

If you turn on the flock, you're not a sheepdog, you're a wolf.
I will call you on that.

If you tell me you'll walk into a firefight with the guy next to you, but you won't drive him to PT when he gets hurt and his wife is desperately trying to hold onto her job, or help remodel his kitchen so he can get his chair through the door, I'm going to call you on that.

If a county, city, legislator or department head is shortsighted, archaic or stupid, I will call them on that.
That's the cool part. I get to say that.
Take advantage of it, rather than getting mad at ME, and maybe we can get some stuff done.

Guess what?
The bad guys already KNOW you're short staffed, that laws have tied your hands, that some of your departments don't send you to the trainings they should, or issue you PPEs.

Let's tell the rest of the world, and maybe things can start to change. At the very least, you'll know you're not alone.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Rural Badge Problems #1

1.Google Maps does not know you exist.

2. The Google Earth car has never been here.

3. The attendance programs for the schools can't figure out your addresses, so it doesn't want staff to input students it thinks 'live outside your district'.

4. There are multiple addresses on the same house, from different systems over the years. No one wants to change the numbers, because friends know the address differently, depending how long they've lived in the area.

5. There's no such thing as home mail delivery. The PO Box IS the address.

6. There are both odd and even numbers on both sides of the road.

7. Sometimes the numbers start over randomly, or skip one, for no reason anyone ever explained.

8. 'General Delivery' still exists.

9. Garmin and Siri can't tell the difference between a Forest Service road and a paved one. And they can't tell you whether either one gets plowed on weekends.

10. 911 mostly works, but sometimes the cell tower sends it to the next county instead, for no reason anyone has ever figured out.

11. People still refer to roads by names that were used fifty years ago, before the state highway came through, and expect you to know where they mean.

12. "That hill where the horse is always standing by the road" or "where the green barn used to be before it burned down" is considered legitimate location description.