Do Not Retreat in Grief. Silence is Surrender.

Grief is a terrible and tricky emotion.  It doesn’t negotiate.  It doesn’t segregate.  It does not reason.  When it enters your life, it unpacks it’s bags and doesn’t let you in on it’s departure date.  It whispers little lies in your ears, telling you that you’ll feel like you’re at the bottom forever.  It buys your ticket to every emotional roller coaster it can find.  Grief is a journey with an unknown destination.

There was a time in my life where grief conquered me; a time where I was unsure I would ever see the figurative daylight again.  For me, my grief revolved around my son and the unknowns of his future.  I grieved moments of lost childhood.  I grieved every missed milestone and every hospital stay.  I was broken and I felt that there was no end in sight. That was until I had my epiphanic moment.  My grief was costing me time and that without deep introspect, it was going to devour me.  During a night of long work and old country roads, I found myself typing out my feelings concerning grief.  I want to share them with you:

“It’s where they prayed for rain.  As I was standing out in the middle of a field, under an endless sky with storm clouds forming all around me, I started thinking about how much I wish it would rain.  As always, my mind over analyzed the concept of rain and what it actually means.  In music and literature, in photography and poetry, rain is usually a word used to illustrate sadness or a time of emotional hardship.  When you live in the middle of a major and dangerous drought, you pray for rain.  Whether it is literal or figurative, we need rain.  We need the sadness and the emotional hardships.  We need to struggle and to persevere.  It’s the only way we learn.  Rain brings life and nourishment.  Rain brings fruit.  Plain and simple, we need the rain.”

Let’s rewind to my weekend in New Mexico.  I drove to Rio Rancho and visited their police department.  Just a few short days ago, Officer Benner was 7 minutes from ending his shift until he had one final call; a call that would ultimately cost him his life.  As I spoke with his brothers, I listened as they told stories of his kindness, his selflessness, and his compassion for his community.  They spoke of his love for his wife, his children, and his brothers and sisters of the Rio Rancho PD.  And, even though they told some light hearted jokes to make my presence more comfortable, I knew one thing to be absolutely certain. They were grieving.

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There is something about a man or woman who is willing to suit up beside you every single day. There is something about officers who are willing to continue to serve in a nation that is portraying itself as against them.  Even though they were grieving, they were not afraid and whether or not they realized it then or even a few weeks from now, they are only getting stronger.  They are becoming more united and their bonds of brotherhood are even more solidified than they were before this monumental tragedy.

That’s it.  That’s my point.  Our police communities have been grieving and the grief just keeps coming.  With that being said, we can’t become devoured by that grief.  The Officers of New York City, Omaha, Hattiesburg, Rio Rancho, Houston, Johnson County, and Colorado are still suiting up even in grief.  For those of us who are the ones that pray for their safety, wait for them to come home, and hope that they are safe….we don’t get to be defeated by grief either.  We don’t get the luxury of being afraid.  If they are brave enough to support their communities in the current climate of the United States, we have to be brave enough to stand up and say that we are accounted for and in their corners.  Now is not the time to retreat in grief.  We must only get stronger from here.   That is our only option.

Woman stands guard 24/7 at the memorial of Officer Benner.  When asked why she does it, she replied with "It's my privilege."

Woman stands guard 24/7 at the memorial of Officer Benner. When asked why she does it, she replied with “It’s my privilege.”

Officer Benner died protecting the community of Rio Rancho.  He was 7 minutes away from calling it a day, walking in the front door of his home and kissing his wife hello.  He was seven minutes away from being able to call one of his children and ask them how their day was going.   That seven minutes will change that community forever.  And, even though I was only there for a couple of day, it has changed me too.   I am forever thankful that they opened up their doors for me and let me shake their hands.  It was truly my honor.  May you find strength in your grief, courage in your fear, and wisdom in your anger.  I won’t let the world forget the sacrifice of Officer Benner.  I promise.

God bless Officer Benner and his family. God Bless Rio Rancho and it’s Police Department.

Much Love 

– Elizabeth

“Silence is Surrender.” – JoAnne Moretti

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Exposing 3 Myths of Police Suicide

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REUTERS/Mike Segar

In the United States, a police officer dies in the line of duty roughly every 58 hours. At the time of originally writing this in 2014 the total had reached 100 – a 22% increase over the same time the previous year. Firearms-related deaths were up by 68%, while traffic-related deaths and deaths from other causes (like training accidents, etc.) remained relatively unchanged. All of these statistics are readily available on websites for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (www.nleomf.org) or the Officer Down Memorial Page (www.odmp.org).

But you’ll almost never see any statistics reported on the “other” line of duty death – police suicide.

This taboo subject is rarely talked about.  For better or worse, police officers need to maintain the appearance of “having it all together.” The sad reality, of course, is that many police officers are not only struggling with the same stresses that non-officers struggle with, but they are also trying to process the ugly side of human life that they shoulder during every shift. Depending on the source, you will find that the suicide rate among active duty police officers is as much as 50% greater than the rate in the general population, and that anywhere from 150 to 300 active duty police officers complete a suicide every year; 85% of them use their service weapon to complete the act. With these types of numbers in front of us, we should be ashamed if we don’t talk about it, don’t expose it and don’t overcome the myths that surround cops ending their own lives.

Law enforcement professional Peter Volkmann notes that in a survey of 500 police officers, 98% said they would consider suicide for reasons like the following:

  • Death of a child or spouse
  • Loss of a relationship (spouse/child) due to divorce
  • Terminal illness
  • Responsibility for a partner’s death
  • Killed someone out of anger
  • Loss of job due to conviction of a crime

MYTH #1: Suicide in Cops Usually Occurs Without Warning
The truth is that most suicidal people plan their self-destruction in advance and then present clues indicating that they have become suicidal. The signs are often there but there is very little in the way of training in law enforcement to help cops recognize them in their fellow officers. Among the many warning signs to watch for: the individual shows lack of interest and motivation and stops confiding in anyone; is turning more and more toward alcohol or other substances to drown out their problems; suffers from frequent injuries or is “accident prone”; has written letters to close friends outlining their wishes “if something were to ever happen”; is no longer concerned about physical appearance.

MYTH #2: Asking cops if they are suicidal might plant the idea in their head
If you see warning signs like the ones mentioned above, there’s no reason (and perhaps no time) to be subtle. You should ask the person you are concerned about: “Have you thought about hurting or killing yourself?” If the answer is “yes” or if you believe the individual is being intentionally vague in answering, you should address whether the individual has the “means, motive, and opportunity” to complete the act of suicide. And offer to stay while encouraging the individual to seek professional help.  We never want to leave a fellow officer behind and we must be willing to lay ourselves on the line for them as much, if not more, than anyone else.

MYTH #3: When cops joke about suicide, they won’t really do it.
What if you have heard an officer jokingly talking about suicide? Talking about suicide (even jokingly) is often a clue or warning about a person’s intention. Every mention of suicide ought to be taken seriously.  Around your department, you will get to know each others’ sense of humor. Be aware of how the tone of that may change for someone either over time or after a particularly critical incident; is what they’re saying different than it used to be? Is how they are responding to your humor changing? Just because someone makes a joke about suicide doesn’t mean they aren’t contemplating it.

So, why are police officers at such a high risk for suicide? Because of the effects of different kinds of stress association with the profession:

  • Internal (departmental) stress (poor supervision, lack of communication, etc.)
  • External (community) stress (relationship between police and community; media—–)
  • Critical incident stress (events that overwhelm normal coping mechanisms such as a line of duty death, serious injury of an officer, horrific crime scene, etc.)
  • Cumulative stress (suffered by veteran officers due to an accumulation of unresolved issues)
  • Family stress (officers develop dysfunctional skills to survive the law enforcement profession, and the family suffers stress because of it)

When the effects of these kinds of stress become too much for an officer to bear, he or she may view suicide as the only means of getting relief. That is why police suicides can rightly be referred to as the “other” line of duty death.

Help for officers is available from many sources, including one’s own spiritual support system or faith community, the department chaplain, a peer support group trained in critical incident stress management, or groups trained in PTSD and suicide prevention like Under the Shield (http://www.undertheshield.com).  More information and assistance is also available from the National Police Suicide Foundation (www.psf.org). In the case of an impending suicide attempt, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: (800)-273-TALK (8255).

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Will Stack Survives a Traffic Stop

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After a recent traffic stop in Lexington, Will Stack decided to share his thoughts on how the encounter went and why he doesn’t believe all officers are crooked and that it shouldn’t be about race.  Will Stack’s Police Video went “viral” and we are excited to hear from him on our inaugural podcast!

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To My Fellow Woman Who Wears a Uniform, Thank You. – A Tribute to Officer Kerrie Orozco

I am a woman.  I am a woman who could never be a police officer.  I spend the vast majority of my life as a parent worried about the “what ifs” in life.  What if my airplane crashes?  What if I get in a car wreck and I’m gone?  What if I was severely injured and my family was faced with the decision to pull me off life support?  What if my son grows up without his mother?  That is just a small snapshot of the questions I have as a civilian.  Can you imagine what my inner dialog would be as a police officer?  I could never be a police officer because I’m not built for that kind of bravery.

I have been asked several times to write an article honoring our police women.  I have to be honest.  I’ve really struggled with it.  I’ve picked the brains of all my female friends of law enforcement, I have sent out questionnaires to women I do not even know hoping that I could have some insight into their lives, and I have poured myself over articles looking for ways to write it.  But, I have fallen short every single time.  I’m an emotional writer.  I write from experiences and feelings.  I have struggled writing about it because I don’t understand them….because I’m not them.

My inability to write about this subject changed today and, even so, I will still fall short on the matter.  A female officer was killed in the line of duty today.  Detective Kerrie Orozco, a woman well known for her passion in her community and her love for inspiring children, was shot while conducting a felony arrest warrant.  Bluntly put, she was murdered by a criminal and even more bluntly put, I’m not even close to being upset about his death today.  I won’t even mention his name because his name does not deserve to reside in the same place as hers.

There are two sides of the internet today.  I’m not sure how the numbers are divided but I do know that there are those who are mourning a hero who served her community with honor and integrity and, there are those who are mourning the life of the criminal because he is “another black kid taken by the hands of the police.”  Instead of blaming the loss of black lives on the police society, why don’t you take a long hard look at the life you took today; a life that was committed to making a difference in the broken world so many claim to hate.  Even more so, she made a difference by doing something about it.  She didn’t claim to want change while letting her words float away in the wind with the rest of your excuses on why our world appears infinitely divided.

I’ll show you how Detective Orozco felt about black youth.  She felt called to make a difference in their lives by bridging the gap between community and policing.  I see a whole bunch of kids that are going to miss Detective Orozco.

If you are someone who is claiming just to want more police accountability, the time to stand up and say that there has been enough violence is now.  You can want those things, advocate for those things, and let your voice be heard in a way that is productive and not in a way that incite violence. You can be a positive voice and a mind that opens up positive dialogs.   I would actually listen to that.  I am eager to hear your voices over those who have called for our family’s deaths.

She acted.  She did.  And her service has ultimately cost her all the things that I fear as a civilian.  Her child will go to bed without a mother tonight.  Her husband will go to bed without a wife.  Her parents will go to bed without their daughter.  Her community?  They will go to bed with one less hero on their streets.  If this is what the anti-police movement is trying to accomplish, I hope you’re happy.  Even more so, if you are happily promoting the violence of more sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mommies and daddies……. justice will be served.  I don’t know if it will be in this lifetime or the next (maybe both) but you’ll be taking an empty suitcase full of the positive contribution you made in this world with you.

To the women in Law Enforcement, thank you!  Thank you for being more brave than I am.  Thank you for having the courage that I so often lack.  Thank you for facing my fears head on every single day without expecting anything in return.  Thank you for putting your life and your motherhood at risk so I may safely continue on with mine.  Thank you isn’t enough but it’s all I have.  You are amazing women.  I’m honored to call you my friends, my sisters, and my fellow human.

Brian Moore.  Greg Moore. Richard Martin.  Benjamin Deen.  Liquori Tate. Sonny Smith. Kerrie Orozco.  May we never forget their faces.  May we never forget their names.  

Serve on.  Be Brave.  Go Home.

– Elizabeth

AOMAHA

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The Cop Hater’s Dilemma

Cop haters are a special collection of illogical people whose ideas about the world and their expectations of law enforcement are grossly inconsistent.  I’ve found that if you can actually get a cop hater to talk to you without simply hurling canned rhetoric over the table, some understanding can be achieved. But this is rare because when you’re entire worldview is demonstrated to have a flaw in it, it requires a big shift in thinking, and that’s not easy for anyone.

Stephanie Keith

Photo Credit: Stephanie Keith

Now let me be clear, when I say cop haters, I’m not referring to the genuine and often necessary critique of police work. I’m talking about those who spend their time mocking cops, slamming cops, or generally criticizing everything they do.  When it comes to honest critique in police work or exposing crooked cops,  you’ll find no argument from me or any other good cop; and good cops are the majority folks.

Let me break down the cop hating “logic” for you, which boils down to “We want nothing from you except for you to be everything we want to hate”.  Like Stephen King’s Pennywise character, cops are apparently capable of shifting into whatever malevolent form they deem the best to intimidate others as they abuse their authority.  Unlike those who live in line with reality, cop haters want to talk out both sides of their mouth and generally run away when they get called out for it. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

Cop haters want cops to never resort to force but also want them to be skilled enough at use of force to shoot a knife out of a running person’s hand in under one second. In other words you want them to protect their community from bad guys but not to actually stop the bad guys.  Tell me, which is it?  Believe me, I think cops wish we had every skill you see in the movies or on television; it would certainly make our job much easier.  I can Jason Bourne someone in my head 1,000 times but then I have to handle myself according to my actual skill set.  What if the reality is that sometimes, the only available solution to a life or death situation is the use of force, including deadly force?

The fact about deadly force is that it is rarely used, even when it could be.  Cop haters would love us to believe that police officers are just randomly walking down the street and picking off people they don’t like one by one. That type of ignorance simply can’t stand in the face of objective truth.  Consider the publically available information from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report Data that shows an annual average of 3,277 deadly force attacks on police officers involving weapons of some kind (that’s right, it doesn’t even include the attack on officers by the unarmed). Yet for the same time frame (2003-2012) only an average of 429 deaths from police use of force occurred annually.  This means that at least 2,848 individuals can be expected to attack a police officer with a weapon in this country and come away alive.  So not only are cops not rampantly abusing their authority but they aren’t even using as much of it as they’re permitted by law.

Cop haters want us to believe cops are lazy donut eating fools but yet are over militarized and too strong of a force upon their communities. The caricature of cops is that we just sit around eating donuts and drinking coffee (actually, that’s sorta true, I do like both of those things) but at the same time we are apparently an over-prepared, well organized and over militarized set agencies that threaten America’s freedom.  What if the reality is that cops would love to do more hanging out in their communities enjoying a fine fried piece of dough and a cup of joe but that the increasingly advanced tactics and equipment of the bad guy require more advanced training and equipment for the good guy?

As I write this, a breaking news story is emerging on the thwarting of a planned attack on a police department in Florida involving weapons such as rocket powered grenade launchers. This coming in the wake of the White House announcing that it will be further restricting the federal program of supplying local police departments with some “military” style equipment due to the public pressure over the perceived mistreatment of minorities and protesters.

So the cop haters have a dilemma don’t they? Do they want their homes, churches and schools secured against modern would-be criminals or do they want them to be more exposed?

Cop haters say the cops are never there when you need them but yet they’re always somehow harassing everyone or driving somewhere too fast. Let’s just translate that into what it really is: The cops don’t do what I tell them to do exactly when I tell them to do it and exactly how I tell them to do it and I don’t like that cops can do things ordinary citizens can’t in order to do the job we hire them to do.  Isn’t that painful just to read? Believe me, it’s even more painful to respond in person to those with this mentality.

This type of thinking is cop hating equivalent to a 2 year old throwing themselves down on the floor of the store because mom and dad, who have more experience in parenting than the child, decide that bobby doesn’t need another trinket right now.  I’ve generally found that the lack of understanding in the law that is running alongside this particularly irritating double standard is to blame. Yet, cops continue to put themselves in harm’s way for even those who refuse to try and understand what is involved and we will never stop because what we do doesn’t flow from merely an understanding of and respect for the law but from the kind of character formed out of overcoming such false perceptions.

Cop haters think it’s ok to violently respond en masse when a cop kills a criminal but when cops are killed by criminals they are “pigs that get wings” So if “#AllLivesMatter” then why aren’t we treating each life as if it truly does? This is like saying that we should be tolerant of all people except those who disagree with us (which there is a lot of that going on around us as well but I digress).  All lives do matter in the sense that we are all created equal.  But #somelives become #criminals and lines must be drawn around the #innocent so that they are protected at any cost to the best of an officer’s ability.

I’ve long held that how we respond to adversity will speak infinitely more about your character than when things are going your way. This is no better demonstrated in comparing the recent riots with the recent police funerals.

You see, rather than viewing police officers as humans (or even as equals), cop haters project a sort of boogieman image upon law enforcement in order to distance themselves from the reality of the world they live in because it doesn’t fit with their ideological system of nonsense.

Now I’m not foolish enough to think that just because I’ve written something like this or will continue to, that I’m going to change all the cop haters’ minds. In fact, I might not change any…ever. But I’m reminded of something the new Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said to me and a few other officers standing in his office during Police Week: “Our job is to keep people safe and sometimes people won’t like the way we do it and they will criticize us; But I comfort myself knowing that we’ve done a good enough job so far since they have the freedom and voice to express that opinion.”  Well said sir, well said indeed.

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Focus Less on Those Who Hate the Police and Start Focusing on Our Own.

There was a time where it bothered me.  In fact, that time is in the not so distant past.  I would pour myself over comment sections and absorb all the negativity from people who had jumped aboard the anti-police train.  It saddened me.  It made me angry.  It had too much control of my day to day thinking about society but now, I realize how dumb it is for me to focus on that.  They have their opinions.  I have mine. We don’t agree and we likely never will.

There’s a difference between us though.  I’m not committed to misunderstanding them.  If they were able to conduct themselves in a way that was in a respectful manner regarding their point of view, I’d actually listen.  In fact, there are some things that I would likely agree with them on concerning police accountability.  I don’t like when authority is abused but, that doesn’t mean I have to blatantly disregard the rest of the things that I deeply appreciate about our law enforcement community.

As I was watching the story unfold on the derailed Amtrak in Philadelphia, the scene that alway occurs during a tragic event played out on my television.  In typical First Responder fashion, they all began to rush into the wreckage while the rest of the world pulled out their cameras and witnessed heroism from the sidelines.  That’s when it hit me.  That’s when I realized I don’t care about their opinions and I pity them for only knowing how to use their words and their actions as vessels for destruction.  If you’re curious to why their opinion doesn’t matter, let me shine a light into that darkness for you.

They are counter productive. I don’t choose counterproductive friends because I don’t like counterproductive people.  They abuse their 1st Amendment right to create more division instead of using it to create a solution.  They are a complainer; a victim.  They’ve never been wrong and they’ve always been mistreated. They don’t want to see the big picture because it doesn’t support their narrative.  You can’t obviously look at the picture of a cop delivering a baby and turn around and say that all cops are evil and racists. You can’t listen to stories about the lives that officers have saved or changed because it deflates their dialogue.  It’s hard to incite a riot or to call for the death of officers when you strip back the uniform and choose to see them as people.

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, then why waste another single breath?  Engaging in part of their commentary is what they want.  Don’t give it to them. Can you imagine how boring it would be for them if their comments were overlooked?  We could be spending way more energy on spreading the good news.  We could be completely focused on going out into our communities and sharing the stories that aren’t getting media spotlight.   When we started the #WeSeeYou campaign, it became evident from the hundreds upon hundreds of emails we received that they don’t need us to seek justice in the comment threads on their behalf.  They need us to take a public stand in support of them.   They needed us to be visible as a unit.

Unless it’s a threat to your family or to your own safety, disengage.  Shift your focus.  The world needs people leading by example.  It doesn’t need people who are getting sucked into a vortex of hatred. You’ll get buried in your anger and you’ll become counterproductive, too.  Don’t become someone who loses their ability to communicate their point of view with intelligence and composure.  That doesn’t serve anyone’s cause but those who oppose you.  It doesn’t set us apart and we are better than that.  We need to be focusing on what we are doing right, how we can better, and the steps that are needed to get there. And, we can.  We can be better.  

I get hate mail on this blog every day.  I’m sure some of those people who hate me are reading this now.  You should stop wasting your time.  You’re entitled to your freedom of speech.  I’m entitled to ignoring it.  The only keyboard warrior I’ll be is one that tries to encourage and motivate as many people as I possibly can.  By all means, have your own opinion.  Be educated.  Speak for yourself.  I will have those conversations.  If you’re unwilling or incapable of at least doing that, I assure you that the only time I’ll spend on your message is the 1 second it takes for me to move it to the trash bin.  If you’ve chosen to use your words to encourage people to kill law enforcement officers and their families, you have blood on your hands.  Whether it’s in this life or the next, justice will be served.

DEAROFFICERFACEBOOKaTimewasted2

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Video Tribute: A Patrolman’s Letter to His Family

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