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The Case for Compassion: Fatigue in Cops

Does society play a role in helping or hurting our police force? Absolutely.

Patrick Hampton · Oct. 21, 2019

Once upon a time, the law-enforcement officer was viewed as a respectable profession, one that upheld order and harmony in the community. Those of us from earlier generations understood the police as authority figures worthy of our respect.

But no longer are we in a time where respect for police is a given. Hatred for LEOs has risen significantly, and this corresponds with ample news coverage highlighting the police force’s every single flaw.

It is understood that police officers should be held to a higher level of accountability, and that their errors should be made publicly available. There are certain instances of police error and wrongdoing that deserve further coverage. But the topic du jour seems to be to perpetually put officers down, to constantly broadcast a negative perception of these public servants from coast to coast.

Here I question whether this nonstop media coverage of negative police stories will actually bring us closer to a solution.

Imagine your own job role. If there were emails and meetings every day only to point out your flaws and mistakes, would this added pressure help you do your job better? For many people, focusing too much on their errors causes them to make them more frequently. I know this to be true in many service-based roles. Doctors, nurses, and caregivers understand this entirely.

Police officers do, too. Plus, consider the fact that their jobs are high on the scale of demanding and stressful jobs, and that their lives could be on the line at any given time. According to a report published in the National Institute of Justice Journal, officers surveyed say long shifts, overtime, and sleep disruption are among the major factors contributing to their fatigue. Plus, police officers are often not privy to the standardized hours and shifts enjoyed by other professions. According to the report, one officer was said to have worked more 130 hours in a single week.

While federal and local measures are overdue to better support overworked LEOs, there are other ways we as a society can help our officers help us.

We start by identifying the approaches that can negatively impact an officer’s ability to do his or her job properly and confidently. This means not allowing the media to drive our perception of every LEO. Know that the MSM constantly pushes race-based discussion when it fits a particular narrative — but only when an offending officer is white and the victim is black. The media’s “hyper-focus” on only these sorts of instances (while ignoring other cases when the officer is black or of another minority group) seems to be intent on creating additional division between citizens and law enforcement.

More than ever, people are vocalizing their hatred and disrespect for the police with sentiments echoing your run-of-the-mill anti-police rap track. When you then consider that police officers are often risking their lives on a modest salary and are pressured to make pinpoint accurate judgments in the heat of a high-risk situation, we can’t be surprised when the rate of grave mistakes increases.

The onset of this “compassion fatigue” leads us on a downward spiral. The more mistakes that are made, the more media attention garnered. Thus, there will be even more hatred from the public leading to more mistakes made. My fear is that at the end of this spiral will be lawless communities with no one to protect the innocent because of either a lack of LEOs, or fewer LEOs able and willing to do fulfill the call of duty.

But I also see a glint of hope. Overcorrecting this compassion fatigue in our LEOs requires us to know the police for ourselves and to be able to discern whether the media’s messages are truthful or inflammatory. This also means that we as a society must also focus on the positives in our police force, too. Because a good police officer is a proud and confident police officer who believes in the community as it believes in him. To create this type of public servant means giving him praise when he goes above and beyond (as many already do). It is acts of appreciation and positive messages in the media that help embolden our LEOs to take their duties in stride. And we, the public, have a part to play in this.

You know what really warms my heart? Seeing photos in the newspaper of senior-living residents delivering cupcakes and cookies to their local officers. If LEOs are as bad and racist as the mainstream media portrays them to be, then why do the wisest in our community commit these genuine acts of kindness? It’s because they know what I and so many others know — that it sometimes takes giving compassion to receive compassion in return. For us, this means taking pride in those who have sworn to give all for our safety for the simple fact that these brave souls exist at all.

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