The stress of polic­ing: a glimpse from be­hind the thin blue line

Dubbo Photo News - - Opinion & Analysis. - John Ryan

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

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