Spending a significant portion of my adult life as a police officer is something I'm really proud of - it defined me as a person for most of my adult life - being a cop was WHO I AM - it's still in my blood. Unfortunately, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is also in my body, and as it's taken it's toll on my body I was no longer safely able to do my job - eventually I have become do disabled that I couldn't even THINK about doing so many of the physically demanding things I used to do every day. Very depressing.
Even more sad than leaving behind a career which very much fulfilled me - creatively, morally, intelligently - is that as I've become a part of the disabled and service-dog handler communities, I've found that SO many disabled people are downright AFRAID of police officers, or have been traumatized by a single negative interaction, or worse, what's turned into a string of times that they have been let down, or worse, victimized by a single officer, a group of officers, or sometimes an entire department's systematic failure to handle people with physical, but far more often, psychological handicaps with respect and understanding.
During my time as an officer, I was proudly among one of the first officers in Florida to be recognized as specialists in dealing with people in crisis - and I put that training to good use. The very first day back to work after attending the sixty-hour course- I took a man into custody who was holding his mother hostage - during a very serious psychological break. He was off his medications, and was EXTREMELY violent, hostile, and suicidal. He also didn't like women OR cops, and was very upset with his mother. He wanted to die- but he didn't get his wish that day.
Single-handedly - without a portable radio (my portable was dead) -without pepper spray (I didnt carry it - I'm allergic)- without a taser (I hadn't yet been to the station as I was en route to work when the call came out) - without resorting to using my firearm (though I had it out, and pointed at him discreetly during the majority of the call - I didn't have much choice given the situation). That day, that man was taken into custody - I later rode in the ambulance with him, handcuffed, when he went to get psychiatrist help. That day, I was able to employ my training and my own experiences and verbal judo skills - to take down someone twice my size, who was VERY angry and VERY much in crisis. But it doesn't always end so well.
These days - we've seen SO much in the news, basically making police officers out to ALL be power-hungry, aggressive Type-A's - all waiting in the wings to use their firearm at the first chance. Those of us who have stood behind the badge know just how unfair - and unrealistic that portrait of police officers is. The LARGE majority of officers have two goals for their careers:
A) Go home safe, every night - and to retire after a long, safe career.
B) To never have to use their firearm - but to use it, if and when the situation calls for it - to protect ourselves, but more importantly, our co-workers and the general public.
That's about it. That's the goal for most cops -stay safe -and keep everyone else safe too. But sadly, from the things you see in the media, many people simply don't have faith that police officers are human beings too - human beings who genuinely DON'T want to hurt anyone. Most of us get drawn into the career to protect and serve. We genuinely want to HELP people. I realize as a female police officer, I have a slightly different perspective... after all, female officers are systematically less likely to use force during any given call. We are incredibly good at talking people into doing what we want - weather it's riding in handcuffs peacefully to jail, or going to the hospital to be checked out - either way, we tend to take the less-hands-on approach at every opportunity. Female officers are also more likely to escalate to deadly force though. It makes sense - most "bad guys" are much bigger and stronger than we are. During my career,every time I put that gun on - I knew that I would pull the trigger if the day ever came that I needed too. Thankfully, I never had to.
But regardless of the fact that MOST police officers are very much non-violent people, whio are intent on helping the general public whenever possible - we all get a bum wrap for the times when people get hurt. I don't agree with the outcome of the situation with Eric Garner. While I'm not here to state that he didn't need to be arrested- I don't agree with an officer keeping his career going strong after ending a man's life who didn't deserve to die. I'm not even going to touch the Michael Brown case because we could go around in circles- all I can say is that I understood why - after being punched inside his vehicle, the officer felt the need to draw his firearm. I'm not here to debate the specifics of the outcome of that case, but again - it comes down to HOW people interact with the police. Even with Eric Garner - part of the problem stemmed from his feeling that he was being wrongfully harassed by the police. He was a BIG man, who was angry and that sadly factored into what ended up causing his death.
The WAY that people interact with police officers is often tainted by their PREVIOUS experiences with law enforcement - and weather you've been arrested a half dozen times, or never done anything wrong in your life - we ALL get nervous when we see those red and blue lights in our rear-view mirror. And for people with psychiatric disabilities, such as anxiety, or maybe more severe cases, like bipolar, schizophrenia, etc - who may have been held against their will (like a 51-50 in California, or a Baker-Act in Florida - there's different terms for it everywhere) - perhaps you've come to fear the police or fear what will happen to you as a result of an interaction. And sadly, many people with psychiatric disorders have a host of controlled substances in their possession- or people with physical disabilities might have pain medications on top of other prescriptions- and this can cause more complications when it comes to our interactions- because at the worst - a person could end up spending a night - or longer- in jail if they are breaking the law, even if it's unintentional.
I want to improve the relationship between the Disiabled Community and Police Officers.
My goal, as a retired officer and a disabled person - is to offer tips to people on how to avoid having negative interactions with the police. I don't ever want someone suffering like I do, with chronic severe pain - to spend a night in jail that they don't deserve (don't get me wrong - I'm not writing tips for criminals - these suggestions are for LAW ABIDING folks). I don't think anyone deserves to go home with a ticket when they could learn their lesson just as effectively from speaking to an officer during the traffic stop.
That was always my credo as an officer too - I never wrote a citation if I felt the person truly got the message from our interaction and wouldn't commit the traffic infraction again.
I'm going to write several blog posts about being disabled and dealing with police officers- although I feel like there are many things that could be said to police officers to better sharpen their skills at dealing with situations with the general public and the disabled communities alike. Some police officers and sheriffs deputies are very good at being fair and their communication is precise and finely tuned - other departments are full of Type A Good 'ol Boy types - sadly - this is where the worst communication break-downs tend to occur, and where people are likely to be left feeling like ANY interaction with the police will have less-than-desirable outcomes. But my blog isn't a training seminar for officers, so I'm going to reach out to the disabled community and the public first, and make some recommendations that will hopefully improve your interaction with police officers, in a way that will HOPEFULLY reduce the number of tickets written - will encourage people who may have had a negative perception of police officers to open their minds and be a little more understanding - and hopefully will result in communication between the disabled communities and police officers to continue to improve over time.
Let's start with "What to do during a traffic stop" - and I'll invite my police officer friends to add in their own suggestions and advice. Let's see if I can use my experience and understanding of both how and why police officers do the things they do (The need for the greatest focus to ALWAYS be the utmost priority on officer safety) - while also understanding the unique perspective of a disabled person- one who may carry medications they need to function, which are also often sought after and abused by addicts. I want to reach out to people who know what it's like to be hassled over the legitimacy of their service dog by a police officer on the beach.
Being in the unique position of truly understanding what it's like to be on BOTH sides of a traffic stop - Maybe I can use my position of having been both an excited, proactive police officer who loved to make DUI and drug arrests - but who sadly also knows what it is like to be young, healthy-looking but fully disabled by the age of 30. i hope that these tips will sincerely help ease your anxiety and reduce your likelihood of getting a ticket or worse, going to jail.
I sincerely hope to help bring these two groups together with a greater understanding of what we can ALL DO in order to better get-along, better understand each other's concerns and needs - and how to BEST get what we all want: No one wants to get hurt, no one wants to go to jail, and no one likes to get a ticket. So let's see what we can do to reduce the likelihood of any of those!
I'll give specific tips for traffic stops tomorrow!
Life at 34, as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend... with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, nothing is easy..but it *IS* worth it.