The people of Mayberry are throwing rocks!
Being a cop just is not what it used to be. I grew up watching Andy stroll the streets of Mayberry being greeted by all the town-folk and smiling all the time, unafraid to take Opey fishing while wearing his uniform.
Today’s Andy has visitation of Opey every other week due to a nasty divorce caused by Andy’s depression and abuse of alcohol when not on duty. Andy cannot wear his uniform during his off hours because the last he did, a group of protesters attacked Andy and trashed his personal vehicle. Andy no longer strolls downtown Mayberry but chooses to shop in the neighboring community where nobody knows him and he does not have to deal with hecklers and angry business owners.
Being a law enforcement officer of any kind has become more and more challenging as the climate of our nation changes from a population of Americans to a population of entitled individuals, each man a country to his own. Unfortunately, law enforcement demands that the officer maintains a high level physical fitness, mental alertness and knowledge.
In today’s world where law enforcement is being targeted on so many levels, it is difficult to maintain these high standards and even more difficult to do the job at all. The main cause of police fatigue in this changing and deteriorating atmosphere is hyper-vigilance.
Hypervigilance is a condition characterized by a state of heightened awareness in the absence ofa threat. Hypervigilance can occur for many reasons, ranging from stressful events or scenarios, to training, to personality. Because of the nature of law enforcement, hypervigilance is an issue that affects law enforcement officers more than perhaps any other occupation.
It is important to gain a full understanding of hypervigilance and how it affects decision making, interactions, and quality of life. The hope is that understanding these issues, law enforcement officers can overcome the issues associated with hypervigilance and perhaps even use it to their advantage
Like with firefighters, it is common for law enforcement officers to let the job define them. From T-shirts to vehicle decals, blue line flags on the wall to a Facebook filled with posts about the dumbest criminals, once a cop, always a cop, right? I saw this for many years as a firefighter; we have such a rich heritage and history that is impossible to just go to work and then return home a different person. We become firefighters, EMT’s and police officers 24 hours a day.
This phenomena is at first just part of joining the “brotherhood” or becoming a part of the “blue line” or the “green line” or… well, you get the point. The problem that arises from this identity grab is that now, in today’s changing social climate, what you have become is hated, despised, investigated, attacked, targeted and shunned.
You cannot simply go home, take off the badge and relax any longer because that hatred is FOR YOU all the time. YOU ARE A COP 24 HOURS A DAY so you are hated 24 HOURS A DAY.
The first sign that this is occurring when you start to self-isolate. Once this sets in, a poor diet and lack of exercise begin to follow. That cop that you once were, the cop that you need to be, that cop with the higher standard of excellence has now become a weary, depressed and sometimes ill shell. As I said, hyper-vigilance is a condition where an officer KNOWS that there is something bad that will happen and obsesses on the possibility to the point of critical stress.
We have all heard the saying “keep your head on a swivel”, but that was never intended to mean that officers were to spend so much time looking over their shoulder that they became useless as law enforcement officers or put others in jeopardy.
That hyper-vigilance has been caused by a decade of police officers experiencing hatred, attacks and targeting at every turn. This condition has been caused by the perception many officers now have that there is nothing they can do that is correct in the eyes of those they swore to protect or in the community they love and once loved them.
As communities suffer from lack of officers, rapid retirements and un-staffed departments, we have to look back to see why. Twenty years ago we were not training law enforcement officers on how to deal with critical stress, how to cope with PTSD or how to overcome the negativity that an anti-law enforcement society can bring. We have never placed a strong enough emphasis on emotional awareness training, “head on a swivel” was a good thing and there was no programming focusing on depression, self-worth or coping with stress.
Hyper-vigilance is a normal reaction to the atmosphere within which our modern day law enforcement officers operate but it does not need to be the flood that wipes them out. The long-term effects of a law enforcement career already have already been proven to be difficult, but the officer of today brings their hyper-vigilance condition to the shift with hyper-activity, alertness and nervous energy and then returns home at shift’s end to become detached, isolated, angry or apathetic, tired and depressed. This roller-coaster quickly allows for the deterioration of the officers overall mental health and begins to damage relationships first at home, then the station and finally throughout the community.
So how do we cope when the townspeople of Mayberry are throwing rocks instead of bringing us pies?
1. Talk to your spouse or partner. If you do not open a line of communication regarding how you are feeling, your home will begin to resemble the community that is hurting you and is the number one cause of broken relationships.
2. Make definite plans and keep your word, even if it is only to yourself. Plan a trip or an outing, set a date and then keep that date whether it is with yourself or others. Having goals, especially short-term goals like outings, trips or activities can help keep structure in your life through time management and planning. With each successful outing or activity, you will be reminded that it is you that is control of your life, not an angry community or some activist group.
3. Don’t watch the news. I remember one of my father’s coping mechanisms was to only watch the weather. It worked. Do not subject yourself to the negative rhetoric or shouts of what is actually the minority. Remember; it is a very small percentage of Americans that really want to hurt you but the media tends to give them a microphone so it seems like there are more of them and that they are larger than you.
4. Embrace other roles. You are not just a cop. Are you a father? Are you a handyman or a painter? Are you a counselor or a mentor? Rather than just being a “cop”, become what YOU want to be and what others around you may need. If all you do is work as an officer and then go home and stare at cop shows on television, you are probably just a cop and nothing else. Get up and volunteer somewhere, tackle a remodeling project, build a bunkbed, play golf. If you cannot find time to try a new role, see #2.
5. Grab onto your faith. I have found, and studies prove, that faith can heal, strengthen and clarify. I am not recommending one faith over another, I am suggesting that you find your way to your faith and hold on. Will it work? I am pretty sure it says: “Blessed are the peacemakers”.