By Leischen Stelter, editor of In Public Safety
This week, while granting the Medal of Valor to 13 police officers, President Obama emphasized the need for the nation to support law enforcement officers.
“We can show our respect by listening to you, learning from you, giving you the resources that you need to do your jobs,” said Obama, reported the Chicago Tribune. “Our country needs that right now.”
His comments came during the start of National Police Week, a time dedicated to showing gratitude for those officers who died in the line of duty. From May 15 to 21, numerous ceremonies and events are planned throughout the nation’s capital to honor the work of police officers around the country.
The names of officers killed in the line of duty will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall. The good news is that fewer names will be inscribed this year than in the past. On May 16, the FBI announced that the number of officers killed last year as the result of criminal acts was down from 2014. In 2015, 41 officers died as a result of felonious acts compared to 51 killed in 2014.
In addition to recognizing those who died in the line of duty, National Police Week is also a time to thank current officers for their dedication to protecting our communities.
This point in time continues to be challenging for law enforcement with significant public scrutiny on officer actions and department policies. As a result, agencies report concerns about low morale among officers. At a time when police agencies are hiring and more police jobs are available, recruitment numbers remain low and there are concerns that the public backlash is deterring good people from joining the force.
Agencies need to take a good, hard look at how they operate. Most need to redouble their efforts to enhance officer training, improve policies and procedures, revamp efforts to build community relationships, improve officer and administrative accountability, and address other concerns from the public.
But the public also must make efforts to recognize how challenging and difficult it is to be a police officer, and not just during National Police Week. The vast majority of officers are excellent. Most are dedicated public servants who spend their careers protecting and serving the community. And most will go unrecognized for their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their families. There must be continual support by the public for its police officers.
As part of that support, the public, along with agency administrators, must acknowledge the long-term trauma many officers suffer as a consequence of their service. Officers are regularly subjected to violence and death and generally undergo extreme levels of long-term stress as a result of their jobs. Until recently, there were few services to help them address mental wellness.
The issue of mental health and suicide prevention is a topic that American Military University faculty members have taken seriously over the years. In Public Safety has published numerous articles about mental health challenges facing law enforcement officers including how to recognize the signs of PTSD and those at risk of suicide, how to manage stress and chronic fatigue, where and how to seek help, ways to focus on healthy lifestyle activities, the need for support for law enforcement spouses, and how agencies can develop robust mentoring programs for officers.
It is important to keep this discussion going: Police officers and agencies need the support of the community. As we celebrate National Police Week, be sure to take a moment to honor those officers who died serving, and pledge to help those who continue to serve.