Sunday, October 25, 2020

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 *

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Officers We're Leaving Behind on Peace Officers Memorial Day

*Fallen Officer Memorial, San Bernardino County*

Peace Officers Memorial Day was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy.
Every year, officers killed in the line of duty are honored at the national memorial in grand and solemn ceremonies.
Their survivors are offered solace, closure and promises of support. Their heartbreak is seen and publicly acknowledged,surrounded and supported by a sea of blue.
This is as it should be.

The intent of President Kennedy's proclamation goes further, though.
We've ignored what he intended for this day, and thousands upon thousands of officers and their families pay the price for that omission.


Read that excerpt again: Peace Officers Memorial Day, Police Week, all of it, was intended from the beginning to honor both fallen officers, and the disabled who survive.

We aren't doing that, yet.
Too many officers are met at the hospital with assurances that "we've got you", that "we're with you" and that "no one fights alone", and then...they're left alone.

They're left alone with hospital bills, left alone with their pain, left alone to fight with work comp lawyers, or worse, with their own departments.
They're left alone with spouses who are now caregivers and breadwinners, with children they no longer can lift.
They're left alone with disappointment and loss of identity.

They're left alone by the people who swore they'd follow them into the fire.
That promise rings hollow when their real concern is health insurance, a vehicle they can drive, a doorway they can navigate, loss of income, loss of independence.
It rings hollow when the people who would take a bullet for them stop calling because it's hard to visit a reminder of what can happen, so fast.

The single biggest myth about policing is that some "system" magically kicks in when they get hurt.
The truth is isolating, expensive and painful: there is no system.
Every wounded officer is left to struggle on his own.
Every agency, every city and county, township, parish and state, is making this up as they go along, and it is the wounded officers who pay the price for their shortcomings.
Hollywood perpetuates the myth, depicting injured officers returning to duty by the next scene, the next episode, with an emotional sprinkle of folded flags and bagpipes.

A disabled officer told me once, "If I had died, I wouldn't be a burden."

Until no officer feels that way again, something remains missing from Police Week.
Remember the fallen.
Comfort the bereaved.
Walk alongside your wounded and disabled.

This in how you honor them all, this Peace Officers Memorial Day.





Monday, April 6, 2020

Note to Crowds: GO HOME. Sincerely, Parks and Wildlife Refuges


The screenshot above is from a conversation I had with a veterinarian friend three weeks ago. It was part of a group discussion about whether the advisories surrounding COVID-19 were exaggerated.
His response: No.
"When we get diseases like this in veterinary medicine, we start culling entire herds."

The key takeaway from the experience of the 1918 influenza pandemic by the world's leading historian on the topic is simple: Tell the Truth.
The truth is that park rangers and conservation officers across the nation, local, state and federal need you to GO HOME.

As a journalist who grew up in rural Idaho and now writes from Montana put it, This Pandemic is Not Your Vacation.
It also won't last forever, but for now: go home.
Then, stay there.

The game wardens, park rangers and conservation officers responsible for protecting you, wildlife and the land are getting mixed messages from their bosses, higher government officials, and the public.
They're being told they are not to approach visitors within 6 feet without complete PPE (N95 mask, gloves, and eye pro), both for their safety and for yours.
The catch is they haven't been issued that gear.
Gloves and a pair of aviators won't cut it, and everyone knows they're not going to just stand by and watch while crimes are committed or visitors get hurt.

The public is getting mixed messages from officials too--go outside! Stay 6 feet apart! We've waived entry fees!
We're open! We're closed!

What's really going on?
Some of the biggest, most glamorous parks are closed- Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the like.
At state and federal levels,most of the rest are "open".
What's the catch?
The catch is what's really not open: visitor centers.
Parking lots. Bathrooms. Restaurants.
The catch is that 'non-essential' staff has been furloughed, or are teleworking.
The catch is that where bathrooms are open, they're being cleaned by the rangers and officers without appropriate PPE, or worse, by volunteers.
The few bathrooms available are often primitive vault toilets without handwashing facilities, and the truth of a novel virus is that no one has yet ruled out a fecal-oral transmission route (ew).
The catch is that crowds converging on parks and refuges without visitor centers are parking on beaches, hiking off trail in sensitive environments during breeding seasons, and overcrowding trails too narrow to allow for safe social distancing.
The catch is that visitors in parks without bathrooms are pooping in the woods like bears, only leaving behind blooms of toilet paper laden with microbes capable of transmitting disease to humans.

That's not love of the Great Outdoors.

Buy your park passes. Get the sunscreen, camera and boots ready.
Familiarize yourself with the Big 6 of our wild places.

And stay home till this passes.
I never intended to become Radio Free America for rural cops, but here I am one more time saying what they can't without getting fired: their hands are tied.
They're frustrated, their working conditions are growing less safe by the day, and they can't keep you safe this way either.
Please.
Go home.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Just in Time

A police wife I've known for a long time asked me to pass along this story.
She said, "Right now, we need to be reminded of hopeful things", and she was right.
You need this.

She said,
"My husband left law enforcement after an officer-involved shooting with some really nasty small-town fallout.
He went back to school.
I went back to work.
My parents helped us keep our house, and keep our toddler son safe and loved while we were in a messy transition. Faith helped us keep our sanity.
Eventually we settled in to a self-employed life, running an investigations business from our home. Once he built a full time caseload we made a nice living, and it felt like we'd started over,finally.

Then 9/11 happened.

By 2003, the recession it sparked caught up with us.
The contract work that paid our bills dried up like a creek during drought- slowly and then all at once, leaving nothing behind but cracked mud, and want.

After working in the family business for years, I found an outside job to fill the gap but it wasn't enough. Small towns are hard job markets.
His job search dragged out for months, and the savings we'd built so carefully dwindled, nibbled away by rats in the mailbox named Mortgage, Car Repair and Power.
It was frightening.
The options were daunting, and few.
It turns out that criminal investigations is a pretty particular skill set, no matter what side of the bar you're standing on.
Finally he decided the only realistic option was to renew his POST certificate (which required attending an academy two hundred miles away, at our expense), and look for work as a cop once more.

Before he left,a card arrived in the mail.
It was from his brother, with whom we weren't terribly close, and there was a note inside with some gift cards.
There were cards for groceries and for gas, and for Walmart, where you can buy anything.

The note said, 'We have been praying for you, and God told us to send these. We love you.'

We were grateful and we were embarrassed.
My husband's pride was stung. We were still paying our bills.
"We don't need those," he said.
"Let's keep them for now. When we know we're back on our feet, we can give them to someone who does need them," I said.
I put them in my wallet and forgot about them.

He finished the re-certification academy and found a small department in the mountains where the boss was willing to take a chance on a guy who'd been out of the game for years. I stayed behind to keep working while our house was on the market.
Houses sell slowly in the winter.

He grew familiar with the weekend commute over a 5000-foot pass; my son and I finally figured out how to achieve detente.
Dad had always been the buffer. I was the one who lost my temper with 11 year old sass and shenanigans.

He thrived at the new department; he had a good boss, and police work was like riding a bicycle. He was good at it before, and he was good at it still. It felt good to have hope, and set down the burden of anxiety we'd been carrying for more than a year.

Five months in, I got a phone call at 12:33 a.m. from an emergency medicine doctor at a tiny hospital. My healthy, strong husband was suddenly, critically ill.
He was 100 miles away and it was snowing. The helicopters were grounded by weather, so they would keep him stable and transport him to the Big Hospital by ground ambulance in the morning.

I spent the rest of the night awake, packing and suppressing panic. When the sun rose, I woke my sixth-grader and we made the icy drive over interstate, through the canyons into the wide valley where my husband spent the next ten days in the hospital.

Illness and injury are nightmares when you're self-employed. That fear still dogged my mind.
This new job was too new for any usable number of sick days. In fact, he was still on probation and I understood that the department could let him go for any reason or none. Being the new guy and not working for ...I don't know, the foreseeable future, seemed like a pretty big reason.

I shoved those thoughts aside, and stuffed worries about loss of income- his, and mine. The Family Medical Leave Act protected my position, but it doesn't pay anything.
He was alive. If he recovered, we'd worry about it later.
If he recovered, I wouldn't care.

I had no power, but in that situation who does?
I couldn't make him well.
No one has a budget category for Loved One Suddenly Ill a Hundred Miles from Home.

I did have a key though,to my parents' house in the same city where my husband was hospitalized. They were traveling out of state, but there were warm safe beds for my son and me, a stocked kitchen and a washer and dryer.

And soon I had a phone call from his new boss, letting me know that every employee in his tiny county-- all 19 of them-- had donated time to a catastrophic leave bank for the New Guy. He promised me that there would be a light duty position ready for my husband when he was discharged, even if he had to invent one.

And in my wallet were gift cards, for gas and for groceries and for WalMart, where you can buy anything.

I had forgotten about them, those cards we didn't need- but the God Who Provides had not. He sees the end from the beginning, and the word He spoke to a brother we rarely see was perfectly timely.
We just didn't know it, then.

My husband did recover, and return to work. He grew in skill and wisdom, and supported that great boss through his own fatal illness just a few years later.
Then he led the little department himself and made it safely to a healthy retirement.
It was a path we could not have foreseen and maybe we wouldn't have chosen but then, we weren't in charge.

If you have no power to fix the problem before you, then it's not your problem.
It's too big for you.
Give it over to The One Who Is Bigger Than Yourself and let go of it, even if you have to keep doing it again every ten minutes.
You can't add a single minute to your life by worrying, and He never intended you to try."
******************** ******************** *********************
That isn't the end of her story, but it's the end for today.
For tonight, I wish you rest.
Wear your vest. Look after each other.
---Charlie Pitt

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Thoughts on Law Enforcement Appreciation Day


Your news feed is filled with ideas for showing appreciation for law enforcement officers. Saying thank you, paying for their coffee and waving with all your fingers are kind gestures.
There's no downside to kindness.

But, do you really want to show them you appreciate them?
Really?
Then take it a little further.

Contact your legislators when I share a bill that ensures wounded officers have access to the care they need.
Donating to a GoFundMe is a kind gesture, but a charity fund is a bandaid on an arterial bleed.
No officer should have to beg for help paying the bills while recovering from traumatically-acquired holes they weren't born with.
No cop's wife should get a bill for her husband's mediflight from a crime scene, while he's still in ICU. It happens.
It shouldn't.

Help get laws changed in states that allow cities to put officers on the street before they've even gone to academy. It's not safe, and it's not fair, to the officer or to their community.

If communities want to show they appreciate their law enforcement officers, they won't wait till after they get killed or hurt, and then call them heroes, and name things after them, so mayors or selectmen can have a photo op by a road sign, or a building.

They'll buy them vests.
Buy them tourniquets.
Send them to training.
Fix the brakes, and replace the tires.
Find them help after critical incidents.

That's how lives are honored.



Sunday, December 29, 2019

Decide What You Want

*Photo credit Mercury News*


It's time to decide what we want from law enforcement.

Warriors?
Counselors?
Guardians?
Priests?
Social workers?
Magicians?

Do we want the cheapest cops possible?
Or, do we want well trained and well screened cops?
Well equipped cops, with every tool needed for every possible eventuality?
Or the beat cop from grandaddy's hometown, with nothing but a smile, a wheelgun, and one set of cuffs?

Really, we want it all.
Admit it, we do- and we want it all, without paying for any of it.

Every officer needs to be an empathetic, well-spoken, SEAL-trained ninja, with double majors in psychology and social work, who considers the job a calling, and has no bills to pay, no nerves to fray, and enforces the law completely objectively while also using discretion at all times, unless it's going to result in arresting--or not arresting--the wrong person at the wrong time, for the wrong thing, in the opinion of every member of the public.

If that person existed, he wouldn't work for you.
So we've got to deal with what exists, and what exists are humans.

Humans are fallible, and their bodies are frail. Their brains play tricks on them when they're under stress, and then keep them from sleeping by replaying the stressor on an endless loop later, trying to find ways to 'fix' whatever went wrong.

Humans come in varieties, not exactly like dog breeds, but close enough that the analogy works:
If you need a bite dog, you don't start with a Golden Retriever.
Possibly, you can teach the Golden to bite on command, if you're persistent enough, and mean enough,but in the process, you'll ruin everything that made him a Golden to begin with.
*Photo Franklin County Sheriff's Office*

Now translate that back to people.
Warriors, soldiers, great war generals like Patton, may live for the fight but they don't always play well with others after the battle.
They can be harsh.
They can use bad language in settings where you wish they were polite.
They find humor in ugly, dark places that just frighten the rest of society.
They're not always...nice.

If you want only a cuddly, soft, empathetic officer whose first response is always a soft answer and compassion, you can have that.
She'll never embarrass her chief at Coffee with a Cop.
He'll present well on camera, every time, and remind you of someone's grandfather.
He'll be the perfect SRO, until there's an active shooter at your kid's school.

Suddenly, society insists on the warrior.
They want the crack-driven demon Malinois, 55 pounds of rawhide, springsteel and gator teeth, driving into the gunfire and doing anything it takes -- anything -- to keep the children safe.
And once the threat is gone, society wants the Malinois to morph back into the therapy dog.
They want the warrior gone, the counselor returned, the off-switch thrown.

That's not how it works.
And it's not fair.

I tell you now: the unicorn doesn't exist.
You can't have it.
What you can have is a human.
If you recruit well, background thoroughly, and train constantly, you can have a human with a kind heart, and good ethics, who is willing to fight hard, be uncomfortable, even get hurt, for you.
You can have a human who tries. You can have someone who struggles, who sometimes fails, who gets better with time and experience, and who has setbacks.
You can't have perfection.
In fact, you can break perfectly good humans by insisting they be something they can't be-- things no one can be.

Decide now that, as long as cops get recruited from the human race, they're going to be exactly human, with everything that means.
The rest of society is also human, after all.
Maybe it's time we decide what we want from the rest of us, too.

Friday, December 13, 2019

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 five 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 officers fallen to gunfire are 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.