October 15, 2013

Editorial: Expectations of police officers

Does anybody ever stop and think about what police officers do for us — and have to do for themselves at the same time?

We sometimes criticize them, even deride them, until we need them. Then, we expect them to be supermen and women.

We call them when we are menaced by skunks — both four-legged and human. We call them in family disputes and expect them to conduct themselves with unapproachable restraint and possess the wisdom of Solomon.

We sometimes concede that they have to act to defend themselves — but not a split second before absolutely necessary.

We expect them to be supremely brave, though we, ourselves, are not. But we tend to resent them for accusing us of breaking the law, such as by speeding, driving with one too many alcoholic beverages under our belt or texting while behind the wheel.

So maybe some people read with surprise in Monday’s Press-Republican that police officers face the same emotional and mental-health issues to which other humans sometimes fall.

Recently, about 50 law-enforcement personnel in this area attended a Trauma Resources and Unified Management Assistance training program in Plattsburgh. Among the topics was the emotional stress to which police are routinely subjected.

One of the issues covered was the certainty that any police officer will eventually encounter a dangerous or traumatic situation. There is no time to mentally or physically prepare for such an incident. It is simply suddenly upon those involved, and the officer is supposed to react with bravery, compassion, restraint and strength.

The police are called to defuse a crisis that we, ourselves, cannot or will not approach. Their own lives could well be at stake, but they must not overreact. At the same time, underreacting is never an option.

Longtime Clinton County Sheriff David Favro, once a City of Plattsburgh police officer, put it this way, in describing being faced with “a split-second decision between life and death:” “Until you actually live it and see it, it is hard to understand just what the aftermath of a deadly-force encounter is like.”

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