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.