National Police Week has passed, and due honor has been given to those who died in the line of duty.
In 1961, President John Kennedy proclaimed:
"Congress, by a joint resolution, approved June 21, 1961 (75 Stat. 94), has designated the week of May 13-19, 1962, as Police Week in recognition of the contribution the police officers of America have made to our civilization through their dedicated and selfless efforts in enforcing our laws, and has also designated May 14th as Peace Officers Memorial Day in honor of the Federal, State, and municipal peace officers who have been killed or disabled in the line of duty.”
Sadly, one of the least attended passages of this declaration is the part that is to honor officers who have been disabled in the line of duty. Not only is the plight of disabled officers sometimes invisible as a policy issue to be addressed, but the disabled officer can become invisible to the law enforcement family that once existed. Police leaders and influencers must be advocates for disabled police officers, both for those who hope to return to work and those who never will.
Leaders can provide pre-emptive education to officers
Both rookie and veteran police officers are aware that they may someday be called on to sacrifice their life. Few have seriously considered that they may be called on to live with chronic pain, mobility limitations, PTSD, or other traumatic and career-ending injuries.
Few enough officers have sufficient plans in place for their own death, much less for disability. Education in the realities of finances, insurance, leave time, retirement options and benefits can save time and grief for officers and their families.
Medical directives, organ donation and other end-of-life issues should be addressed. With the lower rate of marriage and the increase in cohabitation, officers cannot assume that their living partner will have any legal rights to visit, make decisions, or keep assets without prior legally binding agreements.
Leaders can develop a culture of continuing care
Keeping in touch with officers on extended leave or disability retirement can be a major boost to the wounded officer, and an important lesson on professional connections with working officers. Some agencies allow donating leave days to a pool for the wounded officer. Designating an officer, association, or auxiliary member to keep track of birthdays and anniversaries can help maintain consistent contact. Announcing those days at roll call can urge current officers to take the initiative to call or contact the absent officer. Inviting separated officers to events and ceremonies can also ease their fears of abandonment.
Leaders can keep aware of legislation affecting injured officers
More states are recognizing PTSD and other mental health issues among first responders by enlarging treatment and funding options. Federal legislation has been offered to exempt disabled officers from federal taxes, with similar proposals at the state level. Small victories are important to keep the needs of law enforcement in front of legislators and the public.
There is a lot of attention, deservedly so, for our military veterans and the quality of their life after service, especially for those wounded in combat. There should be no less honor or concern for the wounded from among those who serve on the streets of America.
NEXT: 6 things police leaders must do to improve officer wellness in 2022