The stress of policing: a glimpse from behind the thin blue line
BEING a cop can be tough, but living in a police family can bring all sorts of stresses and strains that civilians don’t have any clue exist.
These days there are all sorts of new angles to the job of policing – angles that can make things even more difficult. Just of these is the huge upsurge in the use of social media.
Social media can be a good thing for policing, but it often gets out of control and police now have to spend a growing portion of their time settling down feuds that have started from things like seemingly innocuous Facebook posts.
As a reporter, I covered a near riot in a country town following the death of a small child and threatened kidnappings in retaliation to social media nastiness. There’s something about seeing the written word posted to the world that drives some people crazy.
Untangling these sorts of social issues is a job best left to the cops, but not only does it take up their otherwise valuable time when they could be doing other necessary work, but trying to settle down irrational and dysfunctional people in these sorts of “he said/she said” online arguments can take a severe emotional toll.
Then there are the direct posts targeting police and their families. For instance, some of the posts that appear after a police officer has been killed in the line of duty are enough to make anyone’s stomach churn you would think. But there’s a subculture of bottomdwellers – constantly at war with cops, society and everyone else – that thinks this sort of behaviour is okay.
Further confusing the issue are the huge number of social media posts about alleged police violence in the United States, some of which appears to be well founded but that many people, some social media users in particular, seem to think tars the NSW police force with the same brush.
I’ve seen the USA’S alleged judicial system in action first hand and, while I’m not a fan of the centralised government agencies we have in many instances, the way America’s sheriffs, police and judicial officers can be locally appointed is a nightmare compared with the systems Australia has in place.
Dubbo’s Gemma Handley has grown up with her mum and dad donning the blue uniforms at the start of their shifts. She’s watched both her parents walk out the door and worried if they’ll come back injured…or at all.
She’s so sick of online criticism against the police force, she felt compelled to take to Facebook to set the record straight. This is what she had to say:
“I need to rant a little, so bear with me.
“I’m so sick of people posting photos to Facebook or writing malicious comments regarding police and their “abuse of power” or (calling them) “pigs”.
“I have had parents miss Christmas because of work. I’ve had a father diagnosed with PTSD because of 27 years of his life (on the force) that he’ll never get back and a mum who has come home with bruises. So I get quite offended when people, who are most likely those who would shiver at the sight of a gun or a splash of blood, have the audacity to criticise those who do such a good job at making this a safe place to live.
“I grew up wondering and hoping that Mum or Dad would return home after a night’s work; my heart would drop if the phone rang.
“I grew up with parents who, on a daily basis, fought the battle of leaving work stuff at work only to return home, take off the uniform and replace it with the happy face of a parent for (the sake of) my two sisters and me.
“Unlike most of you who wake up when your alarm goes off and grunt and groan about going to your office job – in which the most dangerous aspect is a possible paper cut – my parents and so many others don’t just attend work when their alarms tell them to.
“Their “job” is more or less a lifestyle, one that can’t just be turned off when it’s knock-off time or when the uniform is removed.
“These people have dedicated their lives to ensure the safety of you and all the people of this society.
“By taking the oath they all made on their graduation day they effectively made your family their family, your safety their priority.
“So you can understand the frustration for police and their families when so many of you are ignorant enough to blame your stupidity or unlawful actions on those in uniform.
“They didn’t pull you over because they felt like it and they didn’t give you a ticket because they think it’s fun.
“They did all those things because, believe it or not, you were doing the wrong thing and if you are going to complain about it, go right ahead but be willing to accept the fact that your daughter or mother or sister or brother was just killed in a car accident because a middle-aged man found himself behind the wheel in a drunken state, going 50km over the speed limit and police decided to “go easy on him”.
“The job goes unnoticed. It’s not as though they expect you to bow down, but as anyone agrees, humanity doesn’t go astray.
“Shout out to all those fab ladies and gents in blue. My opinion may be biased, but I appreciate everything you do.”
Gemma’s dad, Mark, has recently retired from the force, diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – an all too common affliction for police.
Like any dad, he’s proud of his kids, but his daughter’s post caught him unawares. This was his response:
“I sat here and took a little time to read your post. Maybe (there was) a tear or two from your not-so-tough old man.
“What you say is so true. We go to work and look after families and sometimes we forget about the family that really matters…our own. I apologise for that.
“The support that you, your sisters and that saint you call mum and I call the love of my life, has been way above the norm.
“To all the police I know and the ones I don’t: policing is the most rewarding and satisfying job you can undertake.
“Understanding, passionate, respectful, forgiving, integrity and honesty are just a few of the words that are (often said) about police. “True, police have all these traits. “We also have many more attributes that may surprise a lot of people. When we get assaulted, we bruise. When we get stabbed, we bleed. When we tell someone a loved one has passed away, we cry.
“I could go on, but my daughters and their mum have seen all the heartache that has manifested over the years, as have the families of many of my close friends who have left policing, probably a little later than they should have .
“Another trait – we hang in there way too long. “Policing is a fantastic job and a very rewarding career, but it’s like the stuff you grab off the shelf in the supermarket. “It has an expiry date. “Look at the date and get out before you expire.”
When I approached Gemma about sharing her thoughts in this column, she had this to say:
“I think this issue has been snowballing for a while. It’s extremely frustrating to know that a lot of people make unjustified comments about police and the job they do, without actually knowing anything about it.
“I wanted to use the power of social media as an avenue to create an awareness of the issue and I guess give a different perspective on it.
“It’s more or less an open letter from a police officers’ daughter and I never expected it to get the response it did.
“I truly appreciate all the kind comments of those who responded to the Facebook post.
“I also appreciate Dubbo Weekender for approaching me on this topic. It means that this message can be heard by so many more people and for that I, and so many of those in “blue”, are so very grateful.”
These people have dedicated their lives to ensure the safety of you and all the people of this society. By taking the oath they all made on their graduation day they effectively made your family their family, your safety their priority.” – Gemma Handley, police officers’ daughter
Gemma and Mark Handley