National Police Week: We Must Commit Ourselves to the Well-Being of Law Enforcement Officers
The hard truth is that every year more police officers take their own lives than are killed in the line of duty by criminals. And for every officer who commits suicide, there are many more officers who, whether they recognize it or not, are suffering from the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
But this is not surprising when one considers all that we ask of our officers. Day in and day out, we expect them to apprehend armed and violent criminals, engage in high speed chases, notify next of kin that a loved one has died unexpectedly, respond to turbulent domestic violence calls, render first aid to a shooting victim or a badly-injured child, process horrific motor vehicle accidents and crime scenes, make split-second decisions that literally can be a matter of life or death, resolve tough legal questions on the spot in emerging and uncertain situations, and find overdose victims dead in public places or their own childhood bedrooms. These relentless demands exact an undeniable toll.
Added to this burden are the times when a small percentage of officers abuse their positions of authority. This abuse is unconscionable and sometimes even criminal. It weighs heavily on the vast majority of officers who honorably serve their communities. No one in a position of trust – a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a politician, a member of the clergy or a police officer – should ever violate his or her oath to serve others. Society is appropriately outraged whenever that trust has been violated. But the repercussions for police misconduct are unique and can be devastating. Not only have we seen wholesale community uprisings, but innocent officers have been murdered for no other reason than they were an officer in uniform. The reality of such senseless violence also looms over all officers and their families.
Nor is it surprising that the law enforcement community rarely talks about officer suicides or PTSD. Police work attracts a special breed: People who will run toward gunfire and chase an armed felon. The culture of the profession is one that calls for exceptional courage delivered quietly and humbly. As a result, too many officers and agents suffer in silence, inhibited and unable to seek the help that others reach for in much less trying circumstances.
As Connecticut’s United States Attorney, I deeply admire and respect our law enforcement partners who put themselves at risk every day for our protection and safety. I am equally concerned for the well-being of these officers and their families. Officer wellness is a subject that our Office has championed. We are fortunate to have many forward thinking Chiefs of Police and leaders who are committed to ensuring that we meet the mental health needs of the men and women who serve us. This week, the Norwalk Police Department will hold a memorial honoring officers killed in the line of duty as well as those who took their own lives. And the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association will hold an Officer Wellness training, focused on managing the aftermath of trauma, which is open to all local, state and federal officers in the state.
We need to prioritize the well-being of our officers. The results will both improve relations with the public we serve, and provide personal and professional fulfillment for the men and women who keep us safe.
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation that designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week. This week in particular, I salute all of law enforcement for your quiet courage and thank you for dedicating your lives to protecting us.
Deirdre M. Daly
U.S. Attorney, District of Connecticut
May 17, 2016