Police Psychology | Funeral for a Friend
by Kammie Juzwin
Like many of us, I am sitting here tonight with a heavy heart at the loss of so many police officers in violent altercations, the current culture and attitudes towards our first responders. In my role as a Police Psychologist, I’ve had a really hard string of days emotionally, coming back from yet another conversation with someone in distress about working as “the police”. It’s been like that for almost two weeks. The recent media attention on police deaths is tragic, but there was some degree of insulation as it was “there”. But, it came home on Tuesday 1 September 2015, when an agency local had an officer die in the line of duty. This is about 30 miles north from my department, and many officers I know have personal and professional ties to the officers, department and/or case. I have ties to that department. It has occupied the news here, both in print and on-air. It hit the national news as well. Throughout the days as I’ve had calls from, and had face time, with commissioners, officers, family members and administrators, I’ve come to know their grief, fear, shock and anger.
I turned on the news and saw my officers there. I got to my department as soon as I could, and stayed until I had eyes on my guys when they came off their detail. Silly, I know. I didn’t expect to talk to them then, but somehow needed to see them in person to assure their well-being. I walked through my department and discovered we had several officers there on-scene. I also learned the extent my department of sheepdogs was chomping at the bit to get there and help too. They felt angry they couldn’t rotate in for the others who had worked in brutal conditions in the field all day. They felt like they weren’t supported by their department to go help when help was truly needed. They had been taking calls and texts all day from family, friends and significant others wanting to make sure they were safe. A few teary girlfriends and wives had called and had the “I don’t know if I can do this with you” conversation, which the officers struggled with because of their desire to move closer in to the scene. Their ambivalence was palpable.
I’ve offered support through the Northern Illinois CISM Team, which had a support role there. An aside, I am a proud member of this group, and so proud of the professionals and the services they provide. I tried to support the coordinator the best I could as she tried to set up defusings and map out the longer term debriefing services that would be offered.
I attended the funeral. It was a lot to take in and process. I saw the long lines of the public, the Freedom Riders and military standing roadside, the lines of officers and families’ string into the high school. It was the only place large enough to house the service, and they still had to limit the fire service from attending. They instead stood on the procession route, at attention, waiting to pay their respects.
There were civilian and officer viewing times, with the funeral being set for the time all officers were there. Line after line after line of groups of officers stood waiting. One was at least 100 strong, they came from all over the country, local, state, federal and I saw a few international officers too. I stood within this sea of uniforms, and watched the tears, the shaking shoulders, and stares off into the distance throughout the events. I saw the lines, officer after officer, united by a badge with a singular purpose. I also saw laughter, handshakes and hugs. I heard the word ‘brother’ over and over. I listened to the bag pipes as the casket was moved to the hearse, as people stood at attention, the crowd rapt in silence, with tears sliding down own faces.
The saying “Many Badges, One Family”, observed on several signs along the road, was certainly a truth.
I also rode in the procession the whole 18 miles, which was very emotionally moving and exhausting. It was a privilege. Scores of people, departments and businesses stood at the side of the road. It seemed everything was awash with blue and black ribbons and signs of support. Signs reflected support for him, for the department, and their loss. People were weeping, cheering, holding signs, blowing kisses to the cars as they passed. People were standing at attention, holding their hands over their hearts, waving flags, calling support to each department as we passed. Signs also reflected support for the police in general as well. The retired military stood straight and tall at attention next to an American flag. They, too, were often weeping. One image that sticks in my mind was a solitary standing figure of a young adult who had obvious multiple impairments, attempting to salute, his crooked arms and fingers at his brow, tears just streaming. His thin shoulders were shaking and his sorrow apparent. There were children with blue tears painted on their faces, signs reflecting police as their heroes. I held my composure until near the end when we went under an overpass and it was silent, where the signs, flags and buntings spoke volumes. It was beautiful, profound and so sad.
Since then, the conversations have gotten harder. My heart hurts for the sadness I see on their faces, in their eyes, and hear in their voices. The helplessness I hear at not having a resolution is painful. I hear the fear and apprehension for news they are pretty sure is coming next in the media. There is no good way out of this situation
but only through it.
The longer it is in the media and unresolved, the more contentious it is becoming and the community can barely tolerate the fear they are experiencing while it is still in investigation phase. It is hard to watch, hard to wait and hard to tolerate the speculation. There have been a series of interviews where the undercurrent between the various parties implies the worst about the way the other party is handling some aspect of the case. The community waits, fearful of murders amongst them. How long can this tension and fear last before it becomes anger or disillusionment?
Then as we came into the second week, the tone amongst the officers has shifted from grief, to restless disbelief and apprehension for the worst case scenario. Given their training, they speculate, knowing their own set of facts, their hypotheses, and their tendencies are to resolve the riddle. When we talk, they wonder aloud. Everyone I’ve spoken with knows a little piece of something, and each conversation gives me a piece from their perspective or experience. The speculation is rampant about the events, the details and what happened. The alternative hypotheses abound. Being curious, I so badly want more details to clarify or verify, but know that is not what the purpose of the conversation. It all makes sense, none of it makes sense. It is painful to watch and hear, at the personal officer level, at the larger police culture level, and potentially now, for our society.
Reviewing and trying to make sense of the details they know aside, if I summarized the conversations, they would seem to flow like this:
1. It’s easier to believe it happened when it is somewhere else.
2. Maybe public sentiment will turn the tide, and they will see we bleed too.
3. Sure they love us when they’re scared, sheep always love us when they are scared or feel threatened.
4. What’s wrong with me that I’m thinking this might be a suicide?
5. What if it is a suicide?
6. If it was a suicide, he still deserved the funeral, the memorials, the attention of the community. I will stand by that forever.
7. How can I handle the betrayal if it is? I helped look for those people of interest, I did….., I went to the funeral, I cried, I held my wife’s hand and cried like a baby, and if it is suicide? What about the family? The explorers, especially the ones who went into the profession because of him?
8. The community will blame us, and me personally, for letting them believe that we deserve their support and love. For the spectacle, for the intrusion on the lives, for the fear that was not necessary. The hate will really start, maybe even justifying their (mis)beliefs about our jobs in their society.
9. Why should they trust us? I don’t think I can trust us.
10. If this could be the cause where a guy as squared away as he was could do this, what about the other guys who I look up to, how can I trust them?
11. Who in my department is going to do something like this, so I have to go through this again? Do I have to look at every squared away – “got it all together” guy with skepticism now? I already worry about …..
12. I am embarrassed, angry, bitter, and my wife is besides herself thinking that I’m next.
13. Why bother? They hate me when it’s good, they hate me when it’s bad.
14. I love what this badge stands for, but I don’t know if I can keep the battle up with the war inside and outside.
15. Just tell us the answer of the manner of death, give us the facts, let the community know what it needs to know, the truth. Support them through the same grief, disbelief and anger we feel. If they could only understand we’d feel the same sense of betrayal and anguish they feel.
16. What is this industry going to do about all this? Where is the leadership on the daily level?
17. What about the next LODD? Will the community trust us to catch the person? What if it is me next? Someone I know? If it is a suicide, what will that mean for us? For the community?
18. What about the young guys, the new ones? What about their families? Why should they stay in? People want to kill us, it’s open season on us. We have suicide rates and health problems and hate society back. Why bother? I should just do my time and get out.
19. What will I do when I get out, I’m “the police”, it isn’t what I do, it is who I am.
Cops being cops, the conversations have been pushing towards resolution, and their cynicism and career experience is creating a vast range of possibilities of what really happened in the events that led to his death. At this point, I know much too much, and much too little. It is hard to know what is and is not fact, and everything I’m hearing is plausible. As it is an open investigation, I can’t comment about the specifics as I write this to bring clarity. When they move to the personal impact on themselves, I don’t know how to help them other than listen, validate, support, and remind them of why they started in this profession. I know whatever I do is going to feel to me that I am helpless to stop this tidal wave. If I could just deal with this officer and his death, that would be one thing, but this is about a societal thing that is going to get worse before it gets better. “The Police” will be in the cross-hairs of society as both enemies and protectors, and the scrutiny will get worse for them before it gets better. Each officer I talked with made a statement to me acknowledging this burden they carry. This event was bigger than the death of my brother, it impacted my entire family, and me personally, they seem to say. I sit and absorb this heaviness. How do you respond in any effective way? What is the answer?
Was the death a homicide, accidental or self-inflicted? Once this line of thinking started, my core went from sad and wondering to how to take care of my folks in the larger context of society and what might happen to law enforcement and its officers. I felt defeated. I cried. I had a crisis of faith in mankind. I reached out to others. Our fear for our officers contains commonalities:
1. The community at large, at best, is ambivalent towards its police. The sheep love the police when they are afraid.
2. The police officers I observed were profoundly moved by the outpouring of support for the officer, his family and department by the community.
3. The police officers I observed were profoundly moved by the outpouring of support for the police by the community. This event became more than about one officers’ death; it became a cause for this community to demonstrate support for “the police” as a whole.
4. If it is determined to be anything other than a homicide, this may be a devastating blow to law enforcement as a whole across the nation. They feared they wouldn’t recover, that there was no way to save face.
So here is my “working” approach. I ask how they are doing, to which they always reply “fine”. I smile and nod. I chat, cleverly distracting them (well at least in my mind), about whatever. Eventually the real conversation begins. I try to be the support they need. I also work from the assumption that they are indeed managing and doing what they need to do to be effective in their roles. In the absence of data suggesting otherwise, that is a fair thing to do. An incident, even one as significant as this, may not be a significant incident to the individual, where there may be lasting trauma. People have emotions and reactions to situations. Understanding that is
important. Understanding that this experience does not warrant a FFDE is also important, unless there is indeed evidence for this. A lot of guys “joked” if I was going to send them for a FFDE because they cried at the funeral. I hugged them, and I’m sure they might have preferred the FFDE.
Very often my conversations are about how you can be wrestling with something, and yet be functioning well. You can be sad or angry, and yet not be consumed by it. People can be resilient and manage to be many things at once. The goal is not to absent of emotion or reaction, but to be integrated and adaptive. To maintain one’s humanity, while in a challenging culture and set of demands. There is delineation for them, different than compartmentalization or minimizing. It is our job to observe for when that becomes problematic and blatantly obvious, and intervene accordingly when impairment is obvious.
Another attribute is that they see life beyond a career, where they take their skills and knowledge into another phase of their life. I need to look closer at the literature about rates of accident and injury close to transition periods in their careers. I see this as a major area where we can be helpful. How do we help with transition anticipation and transition for this group?
The most frequently repeated topic is there is a pride in wearing the badge and uniform, that it actually an exemplification of what they believe in their core. The internal locus of control centered in values that are integrated into their identity. This is an important observation in my healthier officers. It is a lifestyle they would lead even if they weren’t officers. For those whose identities are values based, being an officer allows them to live congruently with their values, and they seem to be processing through these events differently than those who don’t present with that set of beliefs. But when the core beliefs and values come under fire, they hurt down to their soul.
One officer said something like this to me today, “this is what we do, we face the things society gives us.” He spoke of weathering the storm, regardless of the animosity, while praying that the support they received as real, that it doesn’t get revoked. Although he has aspirations of life beyond this career, this career allows him the best quality of life he can imagine. After the two weeks we’ve all had, a moment of hope occurred in that second for me. If they can weather it, I’ll be in good company while I try too.
Thank you for allowing me to share these rambling thoughts with you. I appreciate any comments, supportive suggestions and directions to help me help my sheepdogs. I don’t know how to protect them from what might be coming. Sometimes, being a Keeper of the Sheepdogs sucks, but man, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but there. Peace, Kammie Juzwin
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.
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