If they have found their identity in their profession, they face an identity crisis as soon as their accomplishments-oriented profession ends. If they have found their sense of self in their achievements,
they don’t know their real selves when the achievements are over.
Their careers have come to define them, and they don’t know who they are deep down inside.
If Dungy was writing about ‘police officers’ instead of professional football players, would his message also hold true? I believe so. Police officers often have tremendous pride in what they do. They have achieved the status and earned the badge by enduring many challenges — including an often very stressful and difficult police academy. Some academies are much more difficult than others. They are not all ‘stress’ military model or ‘boot camp’ style academies. The tougher the academy the more likely the new officer is going to have a strong
sense of pride (maybe even a feeling of being ‘better’ than others).
The bottom line is that when you graduate you feel VALIDATED and VALUED for what you do (performing in the role of a police officer).
You do NOT always feel validated for how well you do your job. This is a matter of proper human resource management. It is important to recognize employees for their good work to maintain high morale and improve performance. Police departments are not always so good at this aspect of dealing with their employees.
Continuing the comparison to football players… does the public treat police offices as a COMMODITY? I don’t know if this would be entirely true. The public certainly scrutinizes what the police do. The public makes complaints about individual officers and crime and disorder in their community. I don’t believe that if an officer is injured or killed they are considered a commodity that is easily expendable — or I sure hope things never get to that point! We still honor our fallen officers. Unfortunately, officers sometimes are considered expendable
from their employment (jobs) when their worth to the team declines.
So how does the IDENTITY of a human being get so attached to his or her career choice? There is no doubt in my mind that ‘ex-cops’ or ‘retired cops can feel an identity crisis. When their career of service ends they can feel that things are crashing down all around them. It isn’t so much as ‘achievements’ and ‘statistics’ like that of
a football playerÖ it is more about the pride and self-esteem that you hold when you are a member of a special group of people. Being a member of a police department probably had more power in the past than it has right now. Police departments recruit from a much wider range of potential police officers these days. I don’t think they will ever have the ‘unity’ and common beliefs and experiences that they did in the past. Whether you are ‘old school’ or a more modern cop, if you don’t know your ‘real self’ and if you have let your career come to
define you there can be some serious problems. Police stress and PTSD are now being recognized more than ever — including a highly publicized issue in Phoenix recently (below).
My personal experience with losing my identity as a police officer happened twice. It happened the first time when I resigned from my job as the police chief in Shawano, Wisconsin. I served for over thirteen years with Metro and then over three years as a police chief; then in one day I learned that I needed to start making the transition to ‘civilian’ life — or look for another police job. It didn’t help that I ‘won’ the battle (paid a settlement) but lost the war (reforming the department).
The next time I went from ‘police officer’ to ‘civilian’ was on November 17, 2011. Sheriff Gillespie had me notified of my employment separation. The next day I would sign a form with the box checked for ‘involuntary termination’ from the LVMPD. I got ‘the call’ during lunch break from a federal trial and I had just been on the witness stand and was scheduled to return after lunch. I’ve told this story before — but I proudly returned to the stand and testified truthfully even after it was announced to the jury that I had just been notified of my termination by Metro. I didn’t feel humiliation because I knew the truth and many people will never know it or care to know it.
Today is the three-year anniversary of that horrible day. I’ve lost pay and benefits that far exceed a quarter of a million dollars. The ‘music major’ (-turned Metro lieutenant) that conducted my investigation (and her police administrator husband) have probably made three quarters of a million dollars in salary from the LVMPD since November of 2011! I only bring that up because life at Metro can be very, very, ‘good’ to some folks and not so good to others like me.
I’m working through the ‘emptiness’ and anger of losing my job… but I never lost my identity or would even consider selling my soul to keep it.
Only two people know what Lieutenant Hans Walters verbally told me I could (and could not) do a few days before 4/19/11. Those two people are me and him. He is dead. Anyone who wants to read the Contact Report can determine what was put in writing by Walters on the ‘record’ speaks for itself—but I wonder if Todd Fasulo ever read it before he decided to end my career. Fasulo assumed that I was told I could never cross the street when, in reality, the message that was begrudgingly delivered was, “The captain is watching you and I don’t know why.”
Many people know (or could have known) how many written requests I made for clarification in the weeks prior to June 30, 2011. I made a half-dozen of those requests to know where I was allowed to drive my car while on duty and why this was happening to me. Those records still exist. I learned in May of 2012 (at my arbitration hearing) that Captain Todd Fasulo had ordered my supervisor to simply ignore my multiple written requests for clarification of orders!
The LVMPD has a clear policy on what to do when illegal orders are given or when orders are not understood. I was following those policies. A man who PRETENDS to be a leader simply ignored policy and my legitimate requests, called me insubordinate, and was allowed to obtain another ‘scalp’ for his mantle… and he was allowed to get away with this by his buddies that have been allowed to climb the chain of command. Loss of your professional identity can be stressful but I’m confident that those who have lost their personal identity
(and integrity) will face even more challenges.
STRESS IN THE PHOENIX PD I was sent a news story out of Phoenix about an officer who recently committed suicide after his involvement in a shooting, a subsequent DUI, and being terminated from his job. He had apparently been diagnosed with PTSD. This is now a big issue with at least some of the media. One councilman even called for the ouster of the police chief.
The story reads, “Craig Tiger died of an apparent suicide about a week ago. He suffered from PTSD triggered by an on-duty shooting in 2012.
After that incident, Tiger was arrested on suspicion of DUI, which is believed to have been the result of then-undiagnosed PTSD, and subsequently fired.”
The councilman called Tiger, “a hero who died protecting us,” and said, “he should have received more help rather than being treated like a criminal.” I personally don’t believe that getting in a shooting should be an excuse from being held accountable for a DUI, but there are obviously more issues to be considered in Phoenix.
Has anyone in Las Vegas heard language like this (which comes from the Phoenix story)? “That department now is seeing the lowest morale that we’ve ever had there… You’ve got a police chief that literally had a police officer die and he comes out and calls him a criminal. That tells me that there needs to be a leadership change, not just from the top person, but everybody in leadership at the police department.”
The councilman (Sam DiCiccio) also posted this statement: “It’s time for a leadership change at PHX PD. The question now is are PHX leaders willing to take a “political risk” to protect others in that department. They risk their lives—does political risk even come close to what they put on the table?”
Another story from Phoenix focused on the broader issue of police stress: The issue of post-traumatic stress disorder among police officers has been a much talked about issue this week in Phoenix and the surrounding communities. The suicide of former Phoenix police officer Craig Tiger. He suffered with PTSD after an on-duty shooting where he and his partner killed a bat-wielding man threatening others and eventually officers.
While Tiger may be the face that’s been associated with PTSD in the police ranks, the issue is much bigger than one man who could not overcome his demons.
Mayor Greg Stanton said on Thursday that city leaders need to do all they can to be supportive of our police and firefighters. He said everyone first needs to recognize that the possibility of officers developing PTSD is real.
“As mayor I’m always going to ask the question, ‘How can we improve? Are we doing all we can? Is there more we can and should be doing?’” Stanton said.
Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia refused to address the issue of PTSD within his department and whether or not he would be willing to review how the department handles those cases.
Another current officer said, “This is not an isolated incident and many officers feel hurt, slighted and scared of reprisal from the department if they come forward with claiming PTSD.”
One theme that many officers expressed this week on the promise of anonymity, is that while help may be available, they are afraid to ask for it because of the fear of being labeled as weak and the fear of retaliation from their department.
So there are clearly some commonalities between how the officers feel in Phoenix and Las Vegas. I’m afraid there is NOBODY in Las Vegas that has the authority to oversee or even give much scrutiny to what the Clark County Sheriff is doing to save officers from the damaging effects of stress.
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Norm Jahn is a former LVMPD lieutenant, who has also served as a police chief in Shawano, Wisconsin, and has nearly 25 years of police experience. Jahn now contributes his opinions and ideas to help improve policing in general, and in Las Vegas in particular, through his weekly column in the Las Vegas Tribune.